Much like the buffalo were an integral part of the lives of Plains Indians, bowhead whales are inseparable from the lives of the Inupiat of the North Slope of Alaska. An older resident of Barrow once told me that approximately 75% of their activity over the course of a year is related to whaling. Whether it’s prepping seal skins for umiaks, cooking, cleaning, hunting, readying gear for camping on the ice or feeding family or neighbors, their lives are connected to the bowhead. They believe that these animals offer themselves to the people to ensure their survival.
One of the transplants to Barrow, research biologist Craig George, has spent 30 years learning from the Inupiat and from the bowhead. Craig and his colleague, Leslie Pierce, are contributors the NBWM’s new The Hunt for Knowledge exhibit. More importantly, they’ve helped legitimize the centuries of traditional Inupiat knowledge that was typically ignored or demeaned by academics and agency scientists.
It’s my pleasure to link you to Ned Rozell’s quick-read article about Craig and Leslie, Learning from Whales and Whalers on Top of the World . You’ll be impressed by the amount of research he’s done, and stunned by the bowhead facts listed in the story.