How many times have you stared at a rock, convincing yourself that it is a bear? Well, I am pretty certain that today in Kaktovik, Ellie and I stared at a polar bear and convinced ourselves it was a rock. Later, the "rock" was gone, and another tourist mentioned that a bear had been seen in that area. If you see a polar bear, but think it's a rock, does the sighting really count?
As expected, our flight was delayed. Fortunately, only four hours later, the fog lifted enough for the flight to Barter Island. Ellie and I, along with seven polar bear tourists walked across the tarmac and crammed into the tiny plane. The best part of flying in a small plane? Every seat is a window seat!
The goal of our trip is to share our research with students and the community, so after settling in to our hotel and reading about polar bear safety, we walked to Harold Kaveolook School. The principal was busy and the science teacher was out sick, but we were able to schedule a meeting for first thing in the morning to begin our busy day in the school.
When planning our trip, our biggest concern was whaling season. Kaktovik is an Inupiat community which practices subsistence hunting. Each fall, they hunt three bowhead whales. The season begins with a feast, after which adults and kids alike are occupied with whaling until three whales are taken. Luckily for Ellie and I, the season doesn't begin until Saturday, so we will have an audience of students! Unfortunately, the feast may be tomorrow night, so our plans to give a talk at the community center are now uncertain. The mayor was encouraging, however, and is helping with scheduling. The benefits of living in a small town!
We spent the afternoon preparing for our presentations, but still had time to explore the tiny island – only about 1/2 mile across! We walked to the Arctic Ocean through thick fog, but only touched the water for a second before the thought of polar bears emerging from the mist hurried us back to town. Scary, but not a far fetched scenario here.
Tiny Kaktovik, around the size of Boulder (~300 residents), has been warm and welcoming. I am grateful to have the opportunity to spend time in the community, and can't wait to meet their kids tomorrow! We hope that our research, completed in their backyard, will be of interest, and that this visit could lead to an ongoing relationship with the community.