Barrow (Utqiaġvik), Alaska: The Iñupiat people, bowhead whales, and an ancient hunt

Bowhead whale skull, drying on the beach

Utqiaġvik felt unembellished, bordered as it was by the Arctic Ocean on one side and the treeless tundra on the other, and even in the height of summer the temperature was cold and the skies gray.  There was one impressive, if haunting, ornamentation, however, that added contrast to the landscape—bowhead whale bones, bleached and enormous.  Skeletons were displayed in front of public buildings, and their tusk-like jaw bones, some over 20 feet long, stood erect outside of homes.

A house in the “duck camp” displaying bones from a bowhead whale skeleton, including the lower jaw bones, which are propped standing up

Most breathtaking were the massive skulls lying on the beach, seemingly abandoned; in reality, they were left there to dry, the oils gradually evaporating over months and years.  Eventually they will be moved to a final resting place, which might be anywhere around town, from a front yard to an office building.

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Seward, Alaska: Humpbacks feeding in Resurrection Bay

Plus a sea otter wonders what the fuss is about

Darn them and their front-row seats (Just joking! Please take us with you. Please…)

 

While not the largest animal on earth (that distinction goes to the blue whale), humpbacks are no petite creatures; they’re 50-60 feet in length, which is longer than your average school bus.  So when these tractor-trailer-sized mammals stick their enormous heads out of the water, they’re pretty easy to spot.  These pictures were taken a few days ago, when we watched two whales (or maybe more; it’s hard to tell) feeding in Resurrection Bay.

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Seward, Alaska: Our starving eagles

“Three more!” I cried, pointing to the birds perched in the tree.

Driving through a neighborhood near the waterfront, we were witnessing something unexpected—a large convocation of eagles.  They were sitting atop telephone poles, perched on satellite dishes and rooftops, and even—as we saw when we turned the corner—blocking traffic in the street.

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Another wildlife weekend in Seward, Alaska: more moose, eagles, and a humpback whale!

We drove to Anchorage yesterday for our monthly pilgrimage to Costco, and on the way we saw eight moose!  (We also saw three more around Seward today, but who’s counting…)

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Exploring Alaska: Quirky Whittier, a hike to Portage Glacier, and our first whale sighting

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An older couple stood at the guardrail, their car parked on a shoulder not wide enough to accommodate it.  It was an act so reckless that a semi blared the horn at them as it passed.

I could see what they were risking their lives for–beluga whales, two of them, swimming in a protected cove near the road.

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