"With Powerboat and Forklift, a Sacred Whale Hunt Endures"

"BARROW, Alaska — The ancient whale hunt here is not so ancient anymore. 'Ah, the traditional loader,'one man mumbled irreverently. 'Ah, the traditional forklift.'"

"That morning, the first of the annual fall hunt, a crew of Inupiat Eskimos cruising the Arctic Ocean in a small powerboat spotted the whale's spout, speeded to the animal's side and killed the whale with an exploding harpoon. By lunchtime, children were tossing rocks at the animal's blowhole while its limp body swayed in the shore break like so much seaweed. Blood seeped through its baleen as a bulldozer dragged all 28 feet of it across the rocky beach. At one point, one man, not Inupiat, posed beside the whale holding a small fishing rod, pretending for a camera that he had caught it on eight-pound line.

Eventually the heavy equipment gets the job done, and the whale is lowered onto the snow -- and the shared joy is obvious. Big blades emerge and the carving commences. Steam rises when the innards meet the Arctic cold. Within an hour, nice women are offering strangers boiled muktuk — whale meat. People mingle. "Congratulations," they tell the family of the crew."

William Yardley and Erik Olsen report for the New York Times October 16, 2011.

 

Source: NY Times, 10/17/2011