The following discussion and associated images of the scientific study of bowhead whales are derived from presentations given by J. Craig George of the North Slope Borough, Department of Wildlife Management. Any mistakes are the full responsibility of the webmaster.
The North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management (NSB DWM) has been working with whaling captains and crews for over two decades. Research efforts have focused on many different aspects of bowhead whale biology and behavior. The following discussion is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather provide an overview of the work of the NSB DWM.
Scientists take samples and perform a series of tests on successfully
hunted animals to determine the presence of pollutants and to evaluate
the health of the animals. Testing has repeatedlyshown that bowhead whales
contain very low levels of known pollutants and are a very high quality
food source (image
Archaeologists have also been able to identify the species and size of whales that have been hunted over the last 2000 years or more. Measurements are taken on several types of bones to also determine the size of the whales that were hunted. Information gathered from these techniques has produced a greater understanding of size and species selection throughout the development and history of whaling. Click here to view a labeled skeleton of a bowhead whale.
When the whale is successfully towed to the ice edge/shore, a series of straps and pulleys (block and tackle) are attached to the whale's tail just above the fluke. The straps and pulleys are then used to pull the whale from the water (image 10, image 11).
With some exceptions, whales are generally butchered on the sea ice. The meat,muktuk, baleen, and all other usable parts are then hauled back to the village via sled and snow machine. It is very important to recover the whale and butcher it soon after it has been taken. If too much time passes, the whale will begin to spoil from the inside out. The thick layer of blubber that serves to keep the whale warm continues to trap its heat even after the whale is dead (image 12).
Successful hunts are followed by open house celebrations hosted by the captain of the successful crew and his wife. The whole community is welcome to attend as well as visitors from outside the village if they happen to be around. Different parts of the whale are prepared in a variety of manners for the open house (image 13). For further information regarding modern whaling, see the sections by Maggie Ahmaogak and Barbara Bodenhorn.