Endless gallons of
coffee and homemade doughnuts fried in Wesson oil are served by the women
inside the tents, the doughnuts brought out in cardboard boxes to feed the
hungry workers. And muktuk, boiled in water and dipped in French's mustard. And
caribou and a polar bear roast cooked at least four hours—they know of
trichinosis—and a huge pot of goulash with onions and canned tomatoes. I think
about the four pounds of cheese I will not need and throw it into the community
food supply. They wash the dishes in Lemon Joy...for some reason this sticks in
my mind, telling me, along with the American flags flying by each dead whale,
that I am still in my own country, these people pay taxes, they vote, they sent
their youth to Vietnam...but they also kill whales.
Two hours after
leaving Point Hope in a small bush plane, I sat in a tub of hot water at the
plush Nul-Luk-Vik Hotel in Kotzebue. It was the first time I had seen my feet
in 10 days.
I was a little
disappointed that I hadn't been in a boat when a whale was taken but I did
witness, from the shore ice, the striking of a whale. A crew was in the water,
pulled up against the ice, when a whale suddenly surfaced a mere hundred feet
away. They moved the boat directly over the animal and the harpooner jammed his
weapon into the shiny back. The primer exploded like a cherry bomb, and as the
startled whale arched his back to dive under the ice another crewman shot it
with the whale gun. The water kicked up from the flukes, obliterating the boat
from my camera's viewfinder. Then we waited as the whale sounded below the ice.
I heard the time charge go off, a sharp cracking, hissing noise like a bolt of
lightning under the water, felt the force of the charge through the ice and
through my boots and clothes, a tingling on my skin, a crackling in my bones.
The whale died under the ice and was found the next day floating dead in the
It had been a very
good start for the Point Hope whalers. They had taken 10 whales in 10 days; no
one could remember anything like that ever happening. Usually they are happy
with six or seven for the entire two-month migration. Joe Frankson took the
12th whale of his life, a 50-foot monster, which the biologist from the
National Marine Fisheries Service told me would weigh 50 tons.
ones weigh a ton a foot," he said. "The smaller ones we figure at 1,000
pounds. We can only guess, of course, just as we can only guess at the numbers
of these whales."
"Then why are
they on the endangered-species list?"
"Just for that
reason. We don't know how many there are."
We talked about
the fact that the Eskimos were nearly denied the right to hunt them in 1972
because of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
"It would be a
damned shame if they couldn't hunt them," I said. "It means so much to
them. Both traditionally and for food."
he said. "I've been coming up here four years now taking measurements."
Then he confided, "I'm glad they can still hunt the whales."