The forgotten people of the Arctic


Bowhead whales are the pinnacle of subsistence hunting in Alaska. The second largest living animals after blue whales, they can grow to almost 60 feet long and weigh over 70 tonnes. They have the largest mouth of any known animal.

Alaskans hunt bowheads twice a year, in spring and fall, going out in the same sealskin boats they have used for centuries. The hunt is part of the rhythm of the seasons. It gives meaning to people’s lives, and food to last them through lean winters.

Everyone in the north is associated with the hunt one way or another. During the hunting season, people on land keep their CB radios on at all times, listening for updates from the whalers.

It is easy to demonise from afar, but the Alaskan bowhead hunt is a long way from large-scale commercial whaling. Biologists say it takes less than 1% of the total population. It is legal, sanctioned by both the federal government and the International Whaling Commission.

It is also not about killing for sport, and no money changes hands. “The captain doesn’t derive anything but prestige,” says Barrow’s mayor, Mike Aamodt.

read more:
article: Adam Popescu
photo: Steven Kazlowski


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