Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Back to Barrow

Hi again everyone! It has been a while, but we are back in Barrow!

We (myself and an undergraduate student, Rachel) arrived on Saturday evening. As I turned my phone on after we got off the plane (yes, we get cell phone reception up here) I received a text from a friend saying that two whales were caught that day ... one by our good friend (and logistics support manager from 2008 and 2009) Lewis Brower's whaling crew. Needless to say, I was quite happy to hear this. We quickly headed for the beach...Not to sunbathe, but to watch them bring in the whale. It took quite the effort to bring the 41 ft behemoth up onto land. It took a bulldozer and a loader to get the job done. But it finally made it, and the crew and community got to work cutting and dividing the shares.

Whaling is an integral part of life in Barrow, as most community members rely on subsistence living practices to survive. Steaks from the grocery store are not part of day to day living around here ... but whale steaks are quite tasty! There are two whaling seasons each year, and the International Whaling Commission sets quotas for each community that cannot be exceeded. This fall season, Barrow is allowed 13 "strikes". So they can bring in a maximum of 13 whales. However, a whale that is harpooned but lost also counts as a "strike". Because of the careful hunting practices and consideration of population dynamics, the arctic whale population is thriving and this subsistence hunting practice is in no way curtailing the whale population.

The whale caught by Lewis Brower's crew was harpooned around 1 pm and was then towed back to the beach from 24 miles out. This took several hours. By 9 pm it was up on solid ground and completely divided up by 4 am. Shares go to each member of the crew, as well as to those who help cut it up. The rest goes back to the whaling captain's home, where many hours are spent the following day cutting up the various pieces into what will be distributed to the community. Rachel and I went to Lewis' house on Sunday to help with this. We worked on cutting muktuk (the blubber with skin attached) and also some of the internal organs (heart, kidneys, etc). Below is Rachel working on this ...

We are here in Barrow for several reasons this time around. 1.) I will be giving a talk to the local community updating them on our research and "reporting back" our results to the local community. 2.) Philadelphia area high school teacher, Dr. Bill Smith, is also here (he arrived on Monday) to do "remote" classes to his students back at Bristol Borough High School. He started the first of these today and will continue these on Thursday and Friday. 3.) We are sampling snow to isolate natural organic matter which we will take back to our Villanova lab to characterize, which means filtering lots of snow. As I type this blog, Rachel and I are babysitting our filters. Ah, the joys of science!

Rachel plans to post something tomorrow on her first "Arctic experience", so stay tuned for that!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The movie Big Miracle with Drew Barrymore about saving the whales trapped under he ice seems very confusing after reading that the culture in Barrow hunts whales for food. I know that whale hunting is an important part of the culture but it seems like a crime against the future of our planet. I hope it's a necessity rather than a custom that should be abandon.