Tikigaq: Journey to the Killigvuk whale
Friday, June 3, 2011 at 3:08PM
Wasilla, Alaska, by 300 in Arctic Spring, 2011, Chukchi Sea, Hunters, Isaac Killigvuk, Point Hope, Rex Rock, Tikigaq, and then some, beluga, bowhead, whaling

The snowmachine and sled ride depicted in my post of two days ago took us to the whale camp of Rex Rock, Sr., where we would transfer to the umiak for the trip to the whale taken by Isaac Killigvuk and crew - as soon as the harpoons and darting guns were made ready. The weapons would not be used on this trip, as a "cease fire" was in place until the Killigvuk whale was landed.

Just before we boarded the umiak, some belugas swam by.

This was the first time not only on the ice and at whale camp but certainly in an umiak for Al Sokaitis (left in white) and Mike Hajdukovich (right in black) of Challenge Life Alaska. The boat rocked a bit when we launched which caused Mike - who in his college days was one of UAF's 10 all-time lead scorer at basketball, to shout out in slight panic. Even when it rocks, an umiak is a very stable boat and there was no real danger that it would tip over.

When the hunters go after a bowhead, they paddle the umiak but this would be a long ride with no hunting be done, so the boat was powered by a small outboard motor.

In addition to his work with Challenge Life Alaska, Sokaitis is the head coach for the Post University men's basketball team in Waterbury, Connecticut. He has also coached at Western State College, University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Southern Maine, and North Adams State College and he coached the Alaska Dream in the ABA for one season.

Eider ducks flew past as we cruised through the Chukchi.

That's Rex Rock, Jr. His father had things to do onshore, so Rex was in command.

We came upon a seal...

...and a male eider duck swimming.

A bowhead blew and then glided through the water not far off starboard.

Rex Rock, Jr., surveys his country. The Rocks have replaced the bearded seal skins that once covered their umiak with fibreglass.

Shorefast ice.

Another bowhead, in the distance, beyond the eiders.

Eiders over the ice.

In time, we reach the landing site. The bowhead is still in the water. The block and tackle have been attached to its tail. Isaac Killigvuk, the successful captain, is the second person to the right of the paddle. The man standing next to him in blue is Popsi Tingook, captain of the first Point Hope crew to land a whale this season.

Preparations to pull up the whale have been made. The skin-covered Killigvuk umiak is pulled up onto the ice.

Those present join together and pull and pull on the block and tackle, until the whale is pulled onto the ice. For a large whale, this process can take many hours, even a day. This is a small bowhead and comes up quickly.

The whale is landed. Isaac is joined by his wife, Sally. They are very happy to have this whale give them the honor of taking its flesh to feed to their community. They haveprayed for the whale. Of all the many sources of food natural to the Arctic - caribou, beluga, seals, walrus, ducks, geese, fish, berries and such, the bowhead is the most important in every way that one can imagine - food, nutrition, spirit, identity.

Year round, the activities of life focus first and most importantly upon the bowhead.

The flag of the Isaac Killigvuk crew.

We stayed for the early part of the butchering, but with the whale landed and the process of cutting and dividing it well underway, the hunt would soon begin again. So Rex Jr. took his boat back to the Rock camp and I followed.


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