With a haul of 11 whales this season, Point Hope gears up for Qaġruq festival

This weekend kicked off the Qaġruq Whaling Festival in Point Hope, where each year, people come from around the region for a three-day feast to celebrate the annual subsistence haul of the whaling season.

A man standing on ice holds up a long slab of baleen
Guy Omnik stands with the baleen from Russell and Andrea Lane’s whale. (Guy Omnik/Alaska Arctic Observatory and Knowledge Hub)

Point Hope captain Rex Rock Sr. said this year’s whaling season kicked off in early spring.

“Early April we went out,” Rock said. “The lead was further out this year.”

Rock explained: The lead is the term for the crack in the sea ice hunters follow to track the whales. He said this year’s lead was about 7 miles outside town.

“We were able to get there,” Rock said. “I was happy that Russell and JJ Lane were able to land the first whale. They always say once you strike and land the first whale, everything else is going to fall into place.”

Point Hope whaling captains ended up landing 11 bowheads this year, a great year in Rock’s book.

With the hauling period over, Point Hope prepared for the three-day Qaġruq Whaling Festival. Rock said over the first two days, captains haul the whaling boats up and show off their crews flags before cutting up the whale for the large communal feast.

“First is what we call qalgi, the second day the avarriqirut, and then the third day we have an all-day cookout,” Rock said. “So we invite everybody to come up and sample all the food that we’ve been blessed with this spring.”

For many Inupiaq residents of Northwest Alaska, this year’s Qaġruq will be the first major community event since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I don’t think it feels much different,” Rock said. “Because we feel blessed when we go out to whale and provide for our community. Not only our community, but cousins in the outlying villages. Definitely, we share the whale with everyone, everyone that wants a taste.”

Qaġruq begins on Sunday and will conclude Tuesday evening.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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