Vienna & CHAGS

From Glasgow, we went on to Vienna and CHAGS (the Conference on Hunting and Gathering Societies), by way of Düsseldorf.  The Düsseldorf airport is not high on my list of airports in Europe.

In Vienna, we stayed in Hotel-Pension Bleckmann, a nice family-run hotel near the University, where all the conference sessions were being held.  The hotel had great breakfasts, and the staff was really nice and very helpful.  They recommended a restaurant that had great food and a local clientele, so it was more reasonable than the more touristy places.

Glenn having dinner at D'Landsknect, Porzellengasse.
Glenn having dinner at D’Landsknect, Porzellengasse.

The conference was very interesting.  Both Glenn & I were giving papers in a session on Aboriginal Whaling in the 21st Century.  I talked about the archaeological evidence for whaling in Alaska, and Glenn talked about the late pre-contact/protohistoric whaling-centric system in North Alaska.  There were a number of other northern papers in the session, including papers on Central and Eastern Canadian whaling archaeology from Jim Savelle and Peter Whitridge, as well as papers on whaling in places like Korea & Bequia.  There were 51 other sessions, all having to do with hunting and gathering groups.  Of course there were a lot of northern papers, but some of the other papers were very interesting as well.  The organizing committee and the students really made an effort to have a green conference, including the food and drinks served at breaks, and all in all it was quite fun.

We ran into a couple of hooded crows in one of the courtyards on campus.  Oddly, we’d seen one at the University of Glasgow as well.

Hooded crow.
Hooded crows.

The campus has all sort of restaurants and beer gardens more or less on or next to it.  It was very convenient after sessions.  Several times we wound up at Steigel-Ambulanz.  This was a restaurant/beer garden right across a walkway from the area where the sessions were concentrated.  It featured seriously large portions, but the food was very good.  We also had a dinner at Universitätsbräuhaus, which was more or less across the quad.


Seriously large (and very carefully arranged) caprese salad).
Seriously large (and very carefully arranged) caprese salad).
Claire Alix about to enjoy that salad.
Claire Alix about to enjoy that salad.

The conference banquet was held in a banquet hall in the Wiener Rathauskeller.   That literally means the cellar of the city hall, and that’s exactly where it is, in the basement of Vienna City Hall.  It is set up for  banquets (and also as a restaurant).  The food was great, and Richard Lee (of Man the Hunter fame) was honored for his contributions.  He was just back from something like his 50th field season!

Conference banquet in Wiener Rathauskeller.
Conference banquet in Wiener Rathauskeller.

Vienna had more places that only took cash than do most cities these days.  We wound up having to wake quite a way to find a bank that exchanged money, since we needed more Euros than we had exchanged in the first place.  On the way, we stopped by the Spanish Riding School (home of the Lipizzaner stallions), and booked a stable tour for the next afternoon, when there weren’t any sessions we simply needed to hear.  The building the Riding School is in had a stratified archaeological site under the plaza in front of it, and portions had been preserved with a wall around it.

Archaeological site in Michaelerplatz. There are portions of a Roman road, Roman fortifications, and even 18th century apartments and drains exposed.
Archaeological site in Michaelerplatz.  There are portions of a Roman road, Roman fortifications, and even 18th century apartments and drains exposed.  The entrance to the Winter Riding School is in the background.

The next day we went for the stable tour.  It was pretty interesting, and the stables were very nice, although we weren’t allowed to take pictures in the actual stables.  Much like the Royal Stables in Denmark, the horses were all in box stalls, but you could see they had been converted from tie stalls at some point in the past.

Entrance to the Hofburg from Michaelerplatz. The Riding School is on the left of the main archway.
Entrance to the Hofburg from Michaelerplatz. The Riding School is on the left of the main archway.
Largest walker in the world.
Largest walker in the world.
Saddles in the tack room at the Winter Riding School.
Saddles in the tack room at the Spanish Riding School.
The Winter Riding School.
The Winter Riding School.


Chandelier at the Winter Riding School.
Chandelier at the Winter Riding School.

Believe it or not, when it was built, the Winter Riding School hall was considered very simple in design, the better to show off the horses!

We walked back to our hotel through the Hofburg grounds.  Being in Vienna really brings home that until pretty recently, it was the seat of a major empire.

Gardens in Vienna.
Gardens in Vienna.
Display rose garden. It seemed to have one bush of each variety of rose, clearly labeled.
Display rose garden. It seemed to have one bush of each variety of rose, clearly labeled.


Another garden.
Another garden.

I couldn’t resist adding this.  The German for ice cream is “eis” and this is an ice cream shop.

An ice cream shop in Vienna.
An ice cream shop in Vienna.

A busy autumn

When I last posted I had just left for a trip to two conferences in Europe.  Since then, I’ve been in 4 countries, given two papers (at EAA 2015 in Glasgow and CHAGS 11 in Vienna), submitted an organized SAA session for next spring, come home, gone to Fairbanks for shotgun qualification, come back home, had two of the WALRUS project participants up here to cut samples from the bones that the interns have been finding in the collections, written part of two reports, drafted two abstracts for a meeting in November, and started on a proposal for an edited volume dealing with climate change & archaeology.  I haven’t managed to post at all.

Last week was a tough week for Barrow in many ways, with the deaths of several community members, including long-time mayor Nate Olemaun Jr..  On a brighter note, Barrow took three whales on Friday, and another three today.

A bit more about Iñupiat subsistence whaling

My post on the Anagi crew’s whale has gotten a number of comments from people who are interested, one way or another, in whales.  Some of them are genuinely interested in learning more about whales & Iñupiat whaling; others appear not to be.  I’m going to try to answer some of the questions, and provide links to sites that can give even more information.

But first,  see this Public Service Announcement.

OK, now a bit of history.  Alaska Natives (and in fact many other Native Americans and Canadian First Nations people) have been whaling for 2000 years or more, since before the Thule culture developed, based on archaeology.  Aboriginal whaling did not damage the whale stocks in any way that can be detected.  What damaged whale stocks was European (and later Euro-American) commercial whaling.  The bowhead was popular with commercial whalers because it was non-agressive and had a lot of blubber for whale oil, plus long baleen.  Most Eastern Arctic stocks were decimated by the early 19th century.

In the western North American Arctic, commercial whaler Thomas Welcome Roys first cruised north of the Bering Strait in 1848, starting a rush to catch the plentiful and naive Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort stock of bowheads on which so many coastal Alaska natives and their inland trading partners depended.  The whales soon became skittish and scarce and many Alaska Natives died of starvation.

Once oil was struck in Pennsylvania, one of the big reasons for hunting whales diminished.  But the baleen, the plates in a whale’s mouth that they use to filter-feed, was still valuable for buggy whips and corset and collar stays.  Bowheads have by far the longest baleen of any whale (15 feet or more from a big whale), so they were still hunted until those items were no longer in fashion or needed.

Many coastal Alaska Natives had become involved in commercial whaling, including shore-based commercial whaling carried out with traditional Iñupiat techniques with Yankee style harpoons, to support their families.  After commercial whaling ended, coastal whaling communities continued these hunts, combining traditional techniques and traditional and modern technology.

In the late 1970’s, some Western biologists, who were not experienced in the Arctic and knew little about bowhead whales (biologists didn’t back then) tried to count bowheads.  They believed that the whales were scared of ice!  They thought the bowheads had to travel in a lead and would come up to breathe in the lead so they could be counted.  Even if that were true, they didn’t account for the fact that there are multiple leads, and that the whales only have to breathe every so often and that wouldn’t necessarily be where the observation post was.  They came up with a count of several hundred whales, and of course, sounded the alarm.  A moratorium was declared on Alaska Native whaling in 1977 (years before the moratorium on commercial whaling, I might add).

Since many families got (and still do get today) a significant portion of their meat from whales, this was a huge problem.  Although wages may look high in places like Alaska’s North Slope, costs are high too, and many families do not have someone who is working in the cash economy and can afford to feed a family on store food and whatever else they can hunt (and of course full-time work does interfere with hunting, which was traditionally a full-time occupation itself).  Most Iñupiat had never heard of the International Whaling commission, and couldn’t understand why they felt it appropriate to starve human beings by forbidding them to feed themselves.

They were particularly puzzled because senior whaling captains and hunters who had spent many decades on the ice had observed that the bowhead population appeared to be growing from the depths it had sunk to by the end of commercial whaling.  They knew that bowheads are not scared of ice.  In fact they can breathe under quite thick ice (they become positively buoyant and use the bow on their head where their nostrils are to push up the ice, cracking enough to let air into the little tented space formed under the ice and breathe there, and then submerge and go on about their business), and that they would not restrict travel to the near shore lead, so they knew the count was wrong.

The North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, with many cooperating researchers over the years, has been studying bowhead whales ever since.  They soon developed a much better way to count them, which is continually refined.  Counts now show an annual rate of increase of 3.2%, which is really high for such long-lived animals.

The Alaska Native Bowhead hunt is highly regulated.   The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) manages the hunt under authority from the US government.  There is a quota of strikes (not whales taken, but whales struck so there is an incentive to land every whale struck if humanly possible), which is established based on document subsistence needs of each whaling community, in light of the population estimates. This quota is set so that communities get what they need and no more.  The harvest is considerably below what population biologists would consider a sustainable harvest if they were talking about elk, or caribou, or mule deer.  As long as something else, like marine noise or a massive oil spill in Arctic waters, doesn’t come along and decimate the population the way commercial whaling did, this is absolutely a sustainable harvest, carried out by people who entire culture is centered around that harvest.

The AEWC divides the quota between communities, based on active crews and population, and approves the transfer of strikes between communities (if, say, the ice is bad in one place and they can’t catch whales, they may transfer their strikes to a place with better conditions) since the maktak and meat is shared and everyone on the North Slope and beyond benefits if whales are taken.  Only captains and crews registered with the AEWC are allowed to take whales, and violations of rules, ceasefires, etc can and has led to punishment or suspension of the offending captain.

When a whale is taken there are traditional rules for sharing which vary by community.  In general, specific shares go the captain, the boat (itself–although obviously the boat owner disposes of the boat’s share), the harpooner, the other crew members, and the other boats which helped tow the whale back to be cut up.  Anyone who shows up to help with the butchering (even a little) gets a share.  My daughter helped a very little once when she was about 8, and she came home with a small share.  The captain’s wife and her helpers cook round the clock after the whale is ashore, and when they are ready, the captain’s flag is hoisted and anyone who wants can go and get fed (they will usually send to-go plates to house-bound Elders).

After that, the captain and crew get ready for a celebration where a great deal more of the whale is shared with whomever shows up.  People get whale meat, maktak, kidney, intestine, tail, flipper, gums, plus goose soup, mikiaq (whale blubber, meat & blood, fermented–and before you say gross, when was the last time you ate curdled drained milk with mold on it–AKA a nice Stilton or Brie?), rolls, cakes, fruit, etc.  Most families in the community go to at least one of these every year.  Many go to all of them.  The amount given to each person depends on how many in the family (and the servers pretty much know or the people sitting around do, so no one fibs).  Captains also give out meat & maktak at Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts to whomever shows up (usually much of the community), and usually will provide some for potluck and other festivities as well.  They also share with Elders & folks who need it during the year.  Most of the folks with whom it is shared share it farther.  Shares travel to Anchorage and even to the Lower 48.  Some of the people who get shares send back things like berries or smoked salmon from their area, or caribou from the interior.

None of the whale, or any other marine mammal for that matter, can be sold, with the exception that Alaska coastal Natives can use baleen or bone or ivory to make handicrafts, which they then may sell.  They are not allowed to waste the rest of the animal just to get these products.

There is a great list of links to good solid information on the bowhead whale and bowhead hunt here.

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Finally, a whale for Barrow! Yay, hey, hey!

Yesterday and today were great days for Barrow.  Last night, showing real persistence in the face of very discouraging conditions this spring, a number of crews went out.  Anagi crew took a 54 footer, the first whale taken in Barrow this spring (or summer, as some of my Facebook friends pointed out).  The whale reached the beach just after midnight, according to Coby, who took a picture of the landing at 12:05 AM.

I had gone to bed early, trying to make up for sleep lost due to something or other wrong with my shoulder, and slept right through it.  None of my co-workers did.  I got a call at 7AM from Trina, who had been helping all night and had realized she couldn’t stay awake for work (or give rides to the others).  I headed for town.  I stopped at the whale first.  As you can see, the weather wasn’t great, as it often isn’t in the morning in summer, and it actually started raining pretty hard while I was there.

Approaching Anagi crew's whale.
Approaching Anagi crew’s whale.
About 9 hours into the butchering.
About 9 hours into the butchering.
Shares of maktak waiting to be put away.
Shares of maktak waiting to be put away.

A bowhead whale weighs roughly a ton a foot, so cutting up a whale this big involves a tremendous amount of labor.  People had been working for about nine hours at this point, and still had a way to go.  The maktak (skin & blubber–very tasty indeed) was mostly off.  There was a bit waiting to be taken either to the captain’s cellar to be put away or divided as shares, but a lot of it had clearly already been taken care of and put away.

I thought a panorama of the scene might be interesting, so–thanks iPhone.

Panorama of Anagi whale being cut up on beach in Browerville, June 27, 2013.
Panorama of Anagi whale being cut up on beach in Browerville, June 27, 2013.

After that, I got Coby, who had apparently only been at the whale until 2:30 AM, & we tried to find RJ, with no luck.  Went back to the BARC to discover a message from my assistant Tammy, who had been at the whale until 4AM, saying she would be late.  Since she is Michael’s ride, he wasn’t there either.  Coby & RJ started working, and I started trying some VZAP troubleshooting, which required running a logger while trying to access the site and then forwarding the logs to the VZAP team at ISU.  I hope it helps, and we don’t discover the problem is just awful connectivity.  Jan, the middle school teacher who is volunteering, wasn’t in, but she rides her ATV to the lab, so we figured she had decided the rain was a bit much.  After I finished with the logging on the computers, I fired up my email, to discover one from Jan saying she had apparently slept right through her alarm, because she’d been at the whale until after 2 AM!  Coby and RJ decided to call it a day around noon, to go back to the whale.

All this made for limited progress in the morning.  A good bit of the afternoon was taken up with things connected with various non-archaeology projects I manage.

The weather warmed up a good bit later, and the south wind was actually ablating the snow in the drifts by the snow fences, making fog billow off them. It was pretty spooky looking.

Fog coming off the snow banks.
Fog coming off the snow banks.
Enhanced by ZemantaADDED  7/1/2013:  If you don’t think people should hunt whales, well, it’s a free country and you are entitled to your opinion.   But before you try to post a rude comment, please check here and here.

About those gray whales that got stuck at Barrow a few years back…

I’ve noticed I’ve been getting more hits on search terms relating to those whales, probably since the movie “Big Miracle” just was released.  So, since I’m kinda busy with the Super Bowl, I thought I’d put up a few links to the real story.

1) Bill Hess’s blog, where he is doing a series on the whole event.  Bill took what were probably the first professional pictures of the whales, including some may probably recognize.  This features a lot of Bill’s really fine photographs.

2) An article in the Fairbanks New-Miner which has interviews with many of the folks in Barrow who were involved in the original event, including biologist Geoff Carroll.

3) An article in the Anchorage Daily News by Richard Mauer, who covered the original story and hauled out his notes to write this one.

An update on the child

I’ve more or less recovered from whatever I had, so I’ve actually got some energy to post.  Herewith a quick update on the person in the parka and the skin clothes, etc that accompanied her (I’m no sure the person is a girl, but I need to pick a pronoun.

I was able to get the pantaloons off, although the legs fell apart.  The boot part was apparently made from either leg skins or fawn skins.  The waist seems to be have been made out of something similar, maybe as a waistband.  The main part of the pants is regular caribou hide, which has much longer thicker hair.  Since the waistband was wrapped around a belt made from a piece of hide, perhaps the regular caribou was too thick and inflexible to be suitable.

Fragment of belt, just above the photo scale.

The back of the parka was about 10-15 cm longer (I can’t be more precise since the preservation was not perfect), and looked like it may have had a rounded hem.  As far as I could see, there were no seams.  According to Murdoch (which seems to be out of print again except in print-on-demand), children’s parka didn’t have back seams, but I am waiting on a couple of other books on skin clothing, and a few more experienced skin sewers opinions.

Back of parka. Outside of garment (after it was flipped). Shoulders at top.

It took a bit of doing to get a look at the back, since it was fairly well stuck to the caribou hide underneath.  I ended up getting Shawn to help me.  We got a piece of Visqueen underneath the whole thing, very carefully, put plastic on top of it, and then put a piece of plywood on top to stabilize everything, held the plastic tight to the wood, and flipped everything.  It worked well, and we were able to use the same method for the sewn wolf-skin item (still unidentified).

The wolf-skin has a lot of seams.  Some bits are badly preserved or very badly matted, so it’s not clear what it used to be.  However, a number of the smaller pieces that have been sewn together are still pretty much intact.  I tried putting a picture of it onto my iPad, and opening it with Omnigraffle, so I could try drawing on the seam.  I’m hoping that it will make it easier to understand, and that maybe someone will recognize what those pieces go to.  I know this can work, since Bertha Leavitt was able to identify that the little girl from Ukkuqsi was buried with a kayak cover (among other things) based on the shape of a couple of pieces of sewn boat cover skins.

I’m still working on the drawings a bit to clean them up, and I’ll put them up on a separate page when they’re ready.

I also managed to finish a review today, and to get a bit done on a paper that I owe some folks.  Both are actually for the same journal, different issues.

Folks were out whaling, and Panigeo crew took a whale, which is probably nearly done being butchered by now (judging by Jimmy Nukapigak’s Facebook updates :-)) .  There was supposed to be one or maybe two more possibly struck, but I’m not sure yet.  The weather is supposed to get worse, so I hope they get in soon.

18th Arctic conference–Part 4 (Day 2-AM)

This penultimate chapter is a bit belated, to say the least, due to holidays, much travel and associated presentations, and proposal preparation.  However, there were some very interesting papers on the final day as well, and I decided I needed to get this written before yet another conference happened.  And I needed a break from final tweaking of the PowerPoint for said conference.

The first paper was by Molly Odell, on economic change at  Mitksqaaq Angayuk between 3400-100BP.  The site, on Kodiak, seems to have had discontinuous occupations from Early Katchemak to the Russian occupation.  Molly focused on the fauna from a midden associated with an Alutiiq house.  The house seemed to have been occupied primarily by men, based on the artifacts.  The midden showed a change from a pre-contact mixed fishery (primarily cod but with significant amounts of salmon and small amounts of other locally available fish) to a fishery focused almost entirely on cod in the historic period.  Molly interprets this as a shift from a winter settlement to a cod-fishing camp, presumably staffed by men.

Jennifer Raff gave a paper on mitochondrial aDNA (ancient DNA) from the Lower Alaska Peninsula & Eastern Aleutians.  This is interesting, as there are disagreements about how/when various cultures in that area appeared, and whether or not they represent in situ (in place) developments or population replacements.  This work may help settle some of those questions.  Not to spoil any surprises, as this paper is being published, but both haplotypes A & D are well represented, and there is B from one site!

Rick Knecht, a fellow Bryn Mawr College PhD, gave a “just out of the field” talk about excavations at Nunalleq, a Yup’ik site in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta.  The Yup’ik culture is quite well-known ethnographically, but almost no archaeology has been done in the area.  Nunalleq, for which there is a date of 1300BP (not sure if that’s calibrated or what it’s on or associated with) has extraordinary organic preservation at the moment, but is suffering erosion, which is accelerating due to permafrost melting and sea level rise.  The local community actually contacted the archaeologists in concern.  The 2010 season excavated a house, with lots of organic artifacts (rye grass matting, for example) present on the floor.  They think it might have been a men’s house, which are known for the Yup’ik from the ethnographic record, based on the low numbers of women’s artifacts recovered.  There was a burnt side room, with a large number of arrowheads present, which is possibly a result of conflict.  More work is planned.

Chistyann Darwent followed with a report on the 2010 work at Cape Espenberg, a beach ridge complex which is located near Kotzebue in the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.  This project has been doing survey there for a couple of years and has surveyed and mapped extensively, especially the more recent periods.  They have actually been able to excavate several houses (one on each of the 3 Thule-age ridges) to a considerable extent.  One thing they discovered was that the surface mapping did not necessarily give a good picture of what was under the ground in terms of houses, side rooms and so forth.  One of the houses seems to have burned, although why is not yet clear.  They excavated an outdoor ceramic manufacturing area (inadvertently–it looked like part of the house from the surface).  The houses on the oldest and middle Thule ridges had Thule 2 harpoon heads associated with them, suggesting that they were fairly early.  The also found a copper eyed needle, slat armor.  The tunnel floor was lined with baleen.  The youngest house was of a type that was familiar to the project’s elder consultant, who had been in the US Army during the Korean War, since he’d grown up in a similar house.  It had lots of evidence for fishing.  The dates were a bit later than prior testing had led them to expect, the oldest around 1260-1400BP, the middle 1450-1650BP.

Justin Tackney gave a paper on mDNA (mitochondrial DNA) from Nuvuk, as well as presenting the new direct dates that Joan Coltrane has for the human remains. The results show a number of haplogroups hypothesized to be founders to modern Inuit populations all in one area, which is new.  In general, this supports a Thule expansion from North Alaska.

I got the slot before lunch, and gave a paper looking at the material culture of modern Iñupiat whaling.  I am using this as a way to approach what sort of evidence might be expected in archaeological sites of whalers, and where that evidence might be found.  Essentially, the modern case has a number of artifacts that are needed for whaling and nothing else, most of which have pre-contact equivalents.  The interesting thing is that they are generally not stored in the house, which implies that excavations focused on houses may not be able to address presence/absence whaling too well.

Papers and articles and PowerPoints, oh my…

Despite the fact that I am still in New York on vacation (except for things like on-line payroll and P-card reviewing and approving, which can’t wait), I’m taking a bit a of a break from reading mysteries and eating Christmas goodies to work on several things I have in progress.  I’m not going to be able to finish any of them, since I don’t have any books here for checking references, and most of the images I want to use are in the Aperture vault  on my computer back in Barrow.  However, I can do outlines, and get a fair bit of the text drafted before I get home, at least for some of them.

In order they are: 1) PowerPoint & accompanying paper on Iñupiat and Cold War Science for a conference in Munich, 2) encyclopedia article on Western Thule 1300-1750AD in North & Northwest Alaska (in 7000 words maximum!), 3)PowerPoint on Alaskan archaeological sites and threats to them from climate change as it has been observed to be occurring for a conference in Tromsø, Norway, 4) article I’m working on with Claire Alix and Owen Mason on Ipiutak at Nuvuk, 5)  encyclopedia article on Barrow sites (Nuvuk, Birnirk and Utqiagvik), 6) paper on ethnographic data on storage of whaling gear, and 7) a paper on whaling gear recovered from archaeological sites which are known to have had whaling taking place.

These all have places they are to go, and times they need to be there.  Nothing concentrates the mind like deadlines, except perhaps the threat of execution…

Two abstracts submitted!

I still don’t have an admin assistant, and I’m getting stretched pretty thin.  The other day I had to print some checks, and got interrupted by something else before I got the check stock out of the printer.  The first five pages of an interesting white paper by Tom McGovern wound up on check stock.  I didn’t even notice until I got home and started to read the thing…  So there were some checks to void.

But I did manage to do a good bit of work yesterday on the maps for the ice road corridor for the Barrow Gas field project.  Still not report ready, but I was able to talk with the woman who is the main GIS person for the project, and mark up a map so she could constrict the cleared corridor a bit where it got close to some possible hunting stand locations.  It’s still plenty wide, although apparently the engineers were worried that if they can’t go exactly there, they’ll have to go through lots of polygonized ground, which is more expensive to build ice roads on.  The thing is the well pad the ice road is going to is on polygonized ground, and surrounded by lots more of it, so I don’t think they’re going to avoid much that way.  I can always test it next summer if they really want to go just there.

Today I managed to get two different abstracts for talks in, which is pretty amazing.  One was for the Saturday Schoolyard talk that Trace Hudson, one of the Barrow HS students from this summer, and I are giving on the 16th (gotta get my part done before then…) and the other was for the 18th Arctic Conference, which is being held at Bryn Mawr College this year.  Since I’d been implicated in talking Rick Davis and the BMC Anthro department into hosting this (the fact that I hosted it in Barrow, with 2 HS students for assistance, while writing my dissertation and working full-time so how hard can it be did figure prominently in my arguments), it really was incumbent on me to give a paper.  I’m talking about the material culture of modern whaling (the stuff that a whaling captain and his wife and crew members need to have specifically for whaling) and where those things get used and stored.

So folks, especially East Coast Arctic types, the registration/paper/poster deadline is Friday, October 15.  So get a move on!

More Whales! Hey, hey, hey Iceberg 17!

Friday two more whales were taken for Barrow, by Yugu and Arey crews, and another two on Saturday, by Ben Itta’s crew and Herman Ahsoak’s crew.

But the really exciting news comes from Wainwright!  For the first time in many years (Glenn & I both seem to remember hear a story about a fall gray whale from the 1930s), Wainwright, Alaska, took a fall whale!  The successful crew was Iceberg 17.  The news made it to Kaktovik where a North Slope Healthy Communities meeting was going on, and John Hopson Jr., a Wainwright whaling captain, as well as NSB Assemblyman, and a great guy, announced it from the podium.  Bill Hess, who has been taking great photographs of the North Slope for decades, was there, and he took a photo which pretty much sums up what whales mean to people here.  The man in the background is NSB Mayor Edward Itta, also a whaling captain.  Aarigaa Iceberg 17!

Barrow took 3 whales today; a great finish to a series of minor catastrophes

The last couple days have been interesting, in the Chinese curse sense of that word.  I’ve got two reports that the clients need ASAP.  That’s normal for this time of year.  Neither is very complicated, and neither project has anything in the way of what they want to do.

It’s the other stuff that’s been a bit over the top.  For one thing, my admin assistant is on an extended leave, and getting a temporary replacement is proving hard, so I’m having to try to get her work done too.  The person who usually fills in for her had to go out for some medical stuff, and the person who was going to fill in for her had his girlfriend medevaced the evening before he was supposed to start, and the doctors don’t want her flying so close to delivery, so he had to stay with her.  Everyone is OK, thank goodness, which is the main thing, but it doesn’t get the office work done.

On top of that, I’ve had 3 abstracts for meeting papers due, only one of which is in yet, travel to arrange for a meeting in Munich (which the organizers want done ASAP so they know how much they’ve got left after paying for a ticket from Barrow to Munich), vacation travel to arrange to Hawaii and upstate New York (which needs to happen ASAP so we can afford the tickets and don’t have to go by way of Phoenix or Atlanta), two separate people who need the list of UIC Science phones & emails (which I update at least monthly, to no effect, since the updates appear to get lost and ancient lists resurface with phones that have been disconnected for two years), a new company budget process, credit cards to reconcile & approve (and a clunky new system to do it with), some checks to print, possibly a proposal to work on with a colleague in the Lower 48, the DMV had apparently lost paperwork regarding insurance on a company truck that was involved in a fender-bender, and a bunch more stuff I’ve forgotten.

You’ll have noticed most of this needs connectivity. Tuesday evening, in the middle of this I got a call from my staff saying the power was messed up in a building that houses the offices of the ARM project.  The guys got a small generator to provide clean power to the servers, which needed a midnight refueling and we got the landlord to get the power company, but no luck.  The next day they came back out, and decided all power would need to be shut off to change a transformer that feeds all of NARL.  This required shutting down all servers, so no connectivity.  No email, no Web, no Skype, no VOIP phones.  At least the BARC had power from the generator, so I could write.

In the middle of that, a fellow who works with my husband had a propane explosion on his boat while out whaling.  Amazingly, the boat did not sink, only one guy had to go to the hospital in an ambulance (although they all got checked out) and everything went about as well as it could have gone.  The windows were all blown out, some of the guys had glass embedded in their coats, I’ve heard, but no serious cuts.  Pretty much a miracle.

We scrambled around getting our Herman Nelson heater back from a fellow who had borrowed it to deal with the aftermath of a winter house fire, so that we would be able to keep the pipes from freezing if it got really cold.  The power came on at the end of the day, only to find out that the ARM building still had bad power, so into a second night of refueling.  It proved really complicated to take the servers down, and the guy handling the job is really sick at the moment, so it was decided not to bring them back up until we were sure there wouldn’t be an abrupt power cut.  They started this morning, but it took until early afternoon until everything was mostly back to normal.  Then the queued email flood began.  My husband was on the way to Anchorage this evening, and we had to get BASC checks printed so he could sign them (the other check signers are busy with whaling right now) before he left.

The power guys got the ARM building back on-line in the afternoon, the checks got done, and I actually was able to email some of the stuff people needed to them.

But the best thing was after work, after I dropped Glenn off at the airport, I got to go out to the old NARL runway.  Barrow caught three whales today (Savik, Saavgaq and Panigeo crews); one was already butchered when I got there, and many happy people were working on the other two.  I talked to Maasak Brower, who had a huge smile on his face, and the first thing he said to me was it was a good day.  It’s a fine thing to have a whale give itself and help you feed the community.


Savik whale being butchered.



Maktak and flipper from Savik crew's whale.



Baleen from Savik crew's whale



Mandible (jawbone) of Panigeo crew's whale in foreground. Some of the whale still being butchered is in the upper right, and in the background are some of the shares that will go to many people in the community of Barrow and beyond.


The meat and maktak is distributed according to set rules.  Shares go to the captain, to the boat (or its owner, since the boats don’t eat maktak), various crew members, other boats that helped tow the whale in, and to anyone who turned up and helped with the butchering.  In turn, those shares will be passed on to family members and friends across the North Slope and Alaska and down to the Lower 48.  It takes about 3-4 hours to completely cut up a 30 foot (~10 m) whale, which weighs about 30 tons.  Then shares are distributed and people bring them home.  There has been a constant stream of vehicles, some with trailers piled with maktak, past my house, coming back from the runway.  Guys went out in really small boats on a very cold ocean, about 1000 miles from the nearest Coast Guard help, and had leviathans give themselves to them, and towed them home, and got a lot of food for people, as their ancestors have for many centuries.  Tomorrow, weather permitting, people will try again.