Friday, October 23, 2009
Polar Bears - Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Sorry again for another belated post. Been busy since arriving back home in Virginia. As promised, this post contains images from a trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The goal was to see polar bears in the wild. Things could not have gone better with my day and a half there. After leaving Denali, drove north and flew from Fairbanks to Barter Island (on the north end of the ANWR and 120 miles from the North Pole) and met with a local Inupiat Guide Robert Thompson. Robert came recommended and his Arctic knowledge and philosophy on life were profound.
The flight over the Brooks Range was amazing. I was thankful for good weather. I was the only passenger on the prop plane and was surrounded by supplies for the community.
Kaktovik was the name of the Inupiat town that I flew into. The town population is close to 300 folks. The town is one of the most remote communities in Alaska, with the closest road being 170 miles away. If you enlarge the Google Earth image below, to the left of the push pin is the location of the town site and ice landing strip.
The push pin is the location of where a bone yard was located. A photo of the bone yard is below. If all goes well, the community is able to harvest two subsistence Bowhead whales a year. After harvesting the whale, the remains are transported to this bone yard location. The longer hooked shaped items are whale skulls of prior harvested whales.
After arrival, in a few hours, the polar bears began to arrive to the bone yard site. The bears are attracted to the remaining meat/blubber as you can see from the images below.
The bears came relatively close to our viewing location. Robert was armed in the event we had any problems. I was amazed at how much larger these bears are than Grizzlies/Brown bears. An adult male averages between 700-1,500 lbs.
On the second day, we went out in a jon boat and cruised the island spit shore across from the push pin in the map above. We saw a number of bears. In the two days I counted 20. Some of the bears were curious and approached the shore as we went by.
The bears were quite playful and entertaining to watch.
While we were out in the boat, Robert commented that due to the calm winds that it might be a good day for the community to harvest a subsistence whale. Lo and behold, shore activity indicated that something may be coming in. We left the water and went to the traditional whale processing site. When the whale arrived the entire community came out to view and help. The whale is brought into the beach with a dozer. The young man in the first photo wasn't going to wait for the equipment to do the job.
A tradition is to allow all the young folks of the community to mount the whale and have their picture taken.
Cutting up the whale is a lengthy process. The whale is divided amongst the community according to traditional rules.
Needless to say this portion of my Alaska season was special. Swear I am the luckiest guy in the world to have been able to experience what I did this summer.