would you say are taken by the four whaling villages every year?" I asked.
"An average of 50?"
even be a little high," he said.
I was glad for the
people of Point Hope and Point Barrow, Wainwright and St. Lawrence Island that
they could still hunt the bowhead whale, even though it is on the
endangered-species list. For they, too, are an endangered species. The days of
subsistence living are nearly finished in Alaska, even for them, for so many
now leave the village to join the white man's world in Alaska's larger cities.
It is a tremendous cultural shock to a people who a mere 70 years ago
outnumbered the white man in Alaska and were living comfortably without his
And now I sat in a
tub of hot water in a plush hotel, carpeted, richly paneled,
color-televisioned, dining-roomed, telephoned, with matching bedspreads and
curtains in the rooms...the bathroom an enamel, porcelain and Formica creation
a mere 150 air miles from the site of the whale hunt. No, the Eskimo and the
bowhead cannot long survive the encroachment of civilization, but the whales
have the advantage. After the Eskimo there is no one left to hunt them. With so
many young people leaving the villages, returning only for a week or a month,
viewing whaling as a "neat" but not a necessary experience, the
tradition cannot long survive. The number of experienced Eskimo whalers is fast
diminishing, gone to the whalebone cemetery at Point Hope. And the young have
gone to Anchorage.