Kaktovik is an Eskimo village which is on Barter Island in Alaska.  It's a small island in the Arctic Ocean, just off shore.  We're about 60 miles from Canada (we can see mountains in Canada from here).  The Eskimos here still live a subsistence lifestyle, hunting for most of their food.  They mainly hunt seal, caribou, musk ox, and bowhead whale.  As you drive around the village, you'll see piles of muktuk (whale blubber and skin) lying on tarps, as well as seal meat, and caribou meat hanging up to dry.  

The whaling here is done in the Fall.  The Whaling Commission gives Kaktovik 3 strikes each year for bowhead whales.  A strike is defined as the harpoon hitting the whale.  If they throw the harpoon, hitting the whale, but the whale gets away, it still counts as a strike.  This year they hit a whale and it swam off, so they lost the strike.  They asked the Whaling Commission for another strike, and were given one.  So they got all 3 whales this year.  

They're required to make the first strike with a hand thrown harpoon.  After the harpoon hits the whale, they can use other means to kill it. 

When they land a whale, there's a big party.  They will radio in that they're towing a whale in, and the whole town gathers on the beach.  They pull the whale onto the beach, and measure it by having all the children stand on it.  Then the men start to butcher it, and the women prepare the muktuk.  They boil small chunks of muktuk; that's call unalik (very yummy).  The men who are butchering the whale are given the unalik first, then the elders are given some.  Then everyone else in town is given some.  The captain of the whaling crew that got the whale puts his flag above the whaling shack.

There are dozens of polar bears around the island.  They mainly come in to eat from the whale bone piles.  When the Eskimos are done butchering the whales, they haul the bones out of town.  The polar bears go to the bones to munch on them.  The Eskimos can legally hunt polar bears, but no one here does so; they prefer to shoot them with cameras.  A few years back an Eskimo came here from another village and shot a polar bear, and they asked him to leave, and never return to Kaktovik.    There was an injured polar bear that kept coming into town.  The city counsel took a vote before shooting it.

The main language spoken here is Inupiat.  Many of the elders don't speak English, and many of the households speak Inupiat around the house.  We don't speak Inupiat yet, but Zak is learning it at school.

I'll add more to this page as it occurs to me....


Kaktovik Pictures - Whaling Pictures - Main Page