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Saturday, 27 December 2014

A whale for dinner


The whole town of Barrow, Alaska, gathers for a momentous event. The subsistence-fishing Irupiat whalers of the region celebrate as a 60-foot Bowhead Whale is hauled in from a boat. The catch is significant - it will provide the entire community with food for the harsh winter that is slowly closing in. In the biting cold, the community hacks away, cutting, slicing up the whale. Following tradition, a section of the skin and blubber will be reserved for the captain of the boat, who will open his home to the community for a feast in the coming days.
This photo-essay by photographer Gregory Bull documenting the way of life of a people through a single event is a feast of visual richness.
 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, a cutter slices through skin and blubber atop a bowhead whale in a field near Barrow, Alaska. Following tradition, a section of the skin and blubber will be reserved for the captain of the boat, who will open his home to the community for a feast in the coming days.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, a whale is pushed onto a frozen metal landing strip for butchering in a field near Barrow, Alaska. The whales, which can reach sixty feet in length and weigh more than 100 tons, can take a Herculean effort to move, both at sea and on land.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, Qaiyaan Aiken, second from left, walks his son along the giant mouth of the bowhead whale he harpooned, after making his way back to shore near Barrow, Alaska. The skills for the hunt are learned first by watching, and then by doing, as the tradition is passed forward.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, a boy holds on to the baleen of a bowhead whale before work begins to butcher the whale near Barrow, Alaska. A chilly celebration takes place on the frozen fields as a whale is brought ashore. The hours-long process of butchering the whale brings the town together for the event.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, Qaiyaan Aiken, center, gets a hug from his wife as he is congratulated for harpooning a bowhead whale after making his way back to shore near Barrow, Alaska. The crews that bring in a whale are celebrated in town, and their stories of exactly how the whale was harpooned are heard throughout town.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, Fredrick Brower, center, helps cut up a bowhead whale caught by Inupiat subsistence hunters on a field near Barrow, Alaska. Drawing on tradition, and keeping within the closely monitored Aboriginal subsistence whaling guidelines, a bowhead whale is carved and divided by a crew armed with knives and hooks, and then shared according to custom.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, a cutter takes a break and drinks a soup of boiled bowhead whale meat and blubber while butchering a whale in a field near Barrow, Alaska. As workers continue with the cutting and hooking of the whale blubber, others prepare a soup to warm the crews.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, men in boots move through blood from a bowhead whale as they finish with the butchering process on a field near Barrow, Alaska. After a whale is divided and shared, blood and some remains are hauled off farther from town.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, cutters divide sections of skin and blubber while butchering a bowhead whale in a field near Barrow, Alaska. Young whalers often learn to help in butchering by learning to use the hook to pull off the giant slabs of skin and blubber. Later, they may move to the more skilled task of cutter.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, a cutter slices through skin and blubber atop a bowhead whale in a field near Barrow, Alaska. Blades lashed to poles are are used to cut down through the blubber in sections, to be hooked and hauled off.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, an Inupiat whaler looks on from a boat on a trailer as a bowhead whale is hauled onto shore after a catch near Barrow, Alaska. During the fall, whaling is done in small boats and few crew members. Once a whale is caught, it is pulled ashore by the tiny boats, in an effort that often takes hours.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, Crawford Patkotak carries a harpoon attached to a buoy after his crew landed a bowhead whale, as the whale is hauled ashore in a field near Barrow, Alaska. Most members of a whaling family pitch in once a whale is caught. Often, three generations of a whaling family are at the task of butchering and dividing the whale.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, a man hauls whale blubber as a bowhead whale is butchered near Barrow, Alaska. The whale skin and blubber, known as muktuk, is prized by the Inupiat, and often eaten frozen.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, family members and friends of the Anagi whaling crew celebrate the capture of a bowhead whale after it was brought ashore near Barrow, Alaska. The celebration begins earlier in the town when a whaling captain radios to shore, "hey, hey, hey!," a sign to all of a captured whale. From there, news spreads. By the time the boats and whale make it to shore hours later, much of the town is there to greet the hunters.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, Molly Pederson, right, and daughter Laura Patkotak take a picture as a bowhead whale caught by Alaska Native subsistence hunters from their family is brought ashore in Barrow, Alaska. Whaling is a community event in Barrow, as family members and town residents race to the beach to congratulate the hunters and help to butcher the catch.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, men haul sections of whale skin and blubber, known as muktuk, as a bowhead whale is butchered in a field near Barrow, Alaska. Once divided, muktuk is shared throughout the community. Some sections are even placed into duct-taped coolers and shipped by plane to elders living in warmer climates farther south.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, a light running on a generator illuminates a man as he passes the giant bones of a bowhead whale in a field near Barrow, Alaska. Whale bones are coveted by many in Barrow, often used to adorn the grave sites of loved ones.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, Crawford Patkotak, above center, leads a prayer flanked by his sons Josiah, in green suspenders, Arnold, in white bib, and Samuel, fourth from right, after his crew landed a bowhead whale near Barrow, Alaska. Both revered and hunted by the Inupiat, the bowhead whale serves a symbol of tradition, as well as a staple of food.

 In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, Kendra Aiken stands wearing a parka made by her grandmother, as she poses for a picture for her parents in front of work on a bowhead whale in a field near Barrow, Alaska. Children of Barrow too small to help with the hooking and cutting, are still brought down to the whale, while family members point and explain the process.

In this Oct. 7, 2014, photo, a cutter stands atop a bowhead whale as work continues into the night, dividing the whale for the community on an field near Barrow, Alaska. The bowhead whale, which can weigh 100 tons, is valued to the Inupiat community, who use the meat, baleen, bones and organs for food, art, household goods, and construction.


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