After two months hunting amid record warmth, Utqiagvik whalers finally landed a bowhead

A bowhead whale and calf amid sea ice. (Photo by NOAA Fisheries)

Whalers in Alaska’s northernmost town of Utqiaġvik have finally landed their first bowhead of the season, after what some veterans said was an unprecedented absence of the marine mammals amid record-setting air and water temperatures.

Social media postings from the North Slope hub community show members of the successful crew standing in the dark in front of the 25-foot bowhead on Saturday.

This year, the dozens of crews from Utqiagvik went without a bowhead for nearly two months after the season opened Sept. 21. Last fall, they’d landed 19 bowheads by Oct. 23.

[Whalers in Utqiagvik can’t remember hunting this late without landing a bowhead]

Utqiaġvik’s whalers weren’t even spotting bowheads early in the season, and scientists flying aerial surveys found bowheads much farther offshore than their normal range — although other North Slope villages farther east did manage to land whales.

Utqiaġvik and the ocean that surrounds it have experienced record warmth this past summer and fall. Experts, including whalers and scientific researchers, theorize that the whales may have moved offshore in search of food, or cooler water.