Whaling Camp: Frozen Seas and Icescapes

Ball and Pyramid, Chukchi Sea, Alaska: This icescape, photographed with a Nikon D90 and a Sigma Bigma 50 – 500 mm lens, has been slightly processed to increase contrasts. The operative word here is “slightly.” Even to the naked eye, these frozen-sea icescapes are other-worldly.

Evocative, perhaps, of a scene from Star Trek, winter hikers venture across the frozen ocean out to a whaling camp. The gun the lead person is carrying is for protection. Although we saw no sign of polar bears on this day, friends of ours who took a slightly different path encountered fresh tracks.

Seal-skin boat at the ready, these men stand vigile for bowhead and beluga whales. Note the light blue block of ice they’ve cut out and positioned near their gear as a shield. These men are standing on sea ice just a few feet from the open sea. Last year was a good year for whaling in Point Hope, with three bowhead whales harvested. The hunt is dependent on the right ice conditions, which can be elusive. So far this year, no whales have been taken.

A well-equipped wall tent, complete with a supply of propane, serves as one of several whaling camps near the village. These camps are set up on sea ice, and may be anywhere from a few hundred yards to several miles offshore. The hunters travel out to leads – areas where the ice is open. Winds and currents can open and close leads quickly, underscoring the need for whaling crews to be constantly alert.

Sea ice seem to be lit from within by blue light. Heaved up in pressure ridges and broken into fragments weighing several tons, it is easy to appreciate the arduous work “breaking trail” entails as hunters go out onto the ice to set up camps. 

A black and white composition heightens the contrasts in these massive blocks of broken ice.

There’s a sense of being somewhere other than Earth…

And then a flock of common murres skims across a lead…