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26 March, 2002

Twenty four hours in the northern most city of North America! What an experience. In just one day, I have met and visited extensively with Robert Suydam, my primary investigator and Fish and Wildlife Biologist of the North Slope Borough. I have toured the city, driven out to Point Barrow, walked around the high school and enjoyed the Native cultural center. Although there is much to tell, I will focus on 2 things - the native, Inupiat people's tradition of whaling and the fears I have for the next few days.

First, Inupiats and whaling. The Inupiat people of the North Slope have such rich traditions based on hunting and fishing. One of the most important is of whaling. The spring whaling season will begin here in a couple of weeks, so many are preparing their skin boats. While I was at the cultural center, there was a group of Inupiat women sewing bearded seal skins together. With about 6 skins sewn into one piece, men will then take the large skin to cover the frame of their 20 foot whaling boat. This traditional boat is rowed out into open water and used to hunt for the bow head whale - a 40-70 foot baleen whale! With harpoons, it is hoped to have a successful hunt. If one is harpooned, other boats (sometimes modern boats) are used to help bring the aquatic mammal to shore. Of great interest is the way in which the whale parts are shared with the crew and other community members. Tradition dictates who gets which parts and how much. Then in the summer, there are great celebrations during which the successful captain shares much of the whale products with the rest of the community. It is appealing to see the simplicity of their actions - the belief that the whale offered itself and that they in return share this offering with all. Now, the next few days I will be less of a spectator and more of a parcticipant in the arctic environment. I am heading out at 7 tomorrow morning on a practice snow machine trip to Pt. Barrow and onto the Chuckchi and Beaufort Seas. Supposedly there are 2 polar bear dens in the area, so we may even get a chance sighting. They have me all equipped with extreme cold weather gear, but I am still a little nervous. This is cold that I haven't really played in before. Plus, the enormity of the area, the uncertainty of the unknown land and animals, and the idea of things being out of my control make my heart beat just a little faster. Check out my journal tomorrow evening or the next morning. I'll try to explain things and include a couple of pictures. Wish me luck!

Within the Heritage Center museum in Barrow is the 'traditional' room. These native women were sewing bearded seal skins together to make the skin boat used in whaling. Whaling will begin in 2-3 weeks - depending on the ice conditions, presence of whales and the International Whaling commission.

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