I roused my team at 6:00 am for a live chat with my classroom back in New Orleans. Ms. Sledge, my stellar substitute, and Mr. Inocian, my Schwarz tech guru, helped square away 2nd period for a phone conversation and PowerPoint presentation with Fritz, Dima, Kelsey, and I. I appreciate each of my team members for rising early to share a bit of our research with those back home. We managed an encore of the presentation later in the day, during which my students were particularly impressed with the price tag of the LIDAR equipment ($250,000) and that of a bag of Tostitos here in Barrow ($8.50). Students were also curious about the flora and fauna of the arctic (no, there aren’t penguins in Alaska), and lifestyles of folks on the North Slope (yes, kids play football). It was great to hear voices from the classroom, and I look forward to being face-to-face with my students come Monday.
Post-conference, Kelsey and I managed a quick visit to the Inupiat Heritage Center in downtown Barrow. An extensive whaling exhibit helped contextualize a huge part of native culture on the North Slope. A workshop is attached to the Heritage Center, in which local artists can be found tooling bones and baleen from locally harvested whales. When one enters the workshop, the strikingly familiar odor of a dentists’ office hits your nostrils; this is due to the drills and dremels etching bone. Non-natives may not purchase parts of walrus, whale, or polar bear unless indigenous craftsmen have worked them. One finished polar bear claw can sell for $250!
Polar bear claws and tools on the craftsman's table
Our final duty for the day could have provided excellent fodder for the Discovery Channel’s series Dirtiest Jobs. For years now, CALM scientists have been monitoring the temperature in Barrow meat cellars, dug well into the permafrost. The task at hand involved uploading data from a logger in such a cellar. As soon as the cellar door is lifted, a cloud of cold, musky odor rises up – evidence of the (sometimes) ancient whale and game meat that lies below. Once underground, accumulated ice required us to crawl on our bellies over the frozen, bloodied ground to reach the data logger. We determined the apparatus had not been recording appropriately, which means a return trip to the cellar tomorrow.
Dima is the first brave soul to enter the meat cellar.
I crawl through over sticky, read ice, to reach and repair our trapped data logger.
Once our clothes were changed, Kelsey and I visited the home of BASC station manager, Lewis Brower. Lewis and his family graciously provided detailed accounts of whaling practices in the community. We were acquainted with the tools and spoils of his hunts, and were told of several hair-raising encounters with polar bears and walruses. Pelts hung in Lewis’ garage as evidence of these encounters. Of course, we would be remiss to leave Barrow without a taste of muktuk, the Inupiat treat consisting of bowhead whale skin and blubber. We were also able to try morsels of bowhead meat, seal meat, and seal oil. Thanks Lewis for your hospitality on our final night in Barrow!
Pieces of muktuk (whale blubber and skin) sit ready to be sliced and eaten.
Lewis has been crafting this whaling boat entirely from memory of those he used with his father.
Lewis explains how a harpoon is used to kill a whale. The harpoon must be thrust with enough force to trigger a device which sends an explosive deep beneath the whale's skin. The harpoon - without explosives - weighs at least 20 lbs.
Yes, Lewis surfs. In the Arctic Ocean.