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Bill Hess

Over the past 31 years, I have been fortunate to to work as a photojournalist/writer in every region of Alaska – most extensively in the North Slope Borough, where I created and produced Uiñiq magazine, a solo photographic journal of Iñupiat life, from 1986 to ’96 - sporadically since.

I photographed and wrote Gift of the Whale: The Iñupiat Bowhead Hunt – A Sacred Tradition, including a single chapter on the 1988 gray whale rescue. I have long wanted to tell the story in more depth. Inspired by the movie, Big Miracle, I am now doing a series of rescue blog posts:

Real History Behind the “Big Miracle” Story

The movie, “Big Miracle,” released this month in theatres nationwide, begins with a Barrow bowhead whale hunt, so I will begin my series on the Great Gray Whale Rescue of 1988 with a bowhead hunt as well – actually, fragments of different Barrow hunts, culminating in the spring of 1988 – the same year that the rescue took place.

I was awestruck by the whale in the opening scene of the movie, in part because I have never seen a bowhead from quite that perspective in real life, yet I have seen them almost exactly like that in my dreams.

Read the full photo essay.

February 10, 2012