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Bowhead pod visits Savoonga with ice conditions unsuitable for hunting

A pod of Bowhead whales near Savoonga in December of 2021. Photo from David Akeya of Savoonga, used with permission.

Earlier this week, a pod of about nine Bowhead whales were seen off the northern coast of Savoonga.

Resident and whaler David Akeya described what he and his relatives witnessed from shore.

“And my uncle came and took out the binoculars. He saw whales popping up about 3500 feet out on the shore down there. And he came back in and told me there was a pod of whales in a pool of water down there,” Akeya explained.

The St. Lawrence Island community can normally see Bowheads swimming by this time of year, during their winter migration to southern waters, Akeya said. For him, it was exciting and reminded him of why he loves living in Savoonga.

“There was one whale that was always in open water and the rest would dive. I guess they were going to eat or try to find the trail,” Akeya said. “And the one [whale] in the open water, it would signal to the other ones where to come up for air. It was fun to see them, but we couldn’t hunt them because of the young ice.”

That’s the term used to describe the relatively thin sea ice currently forming around St. Lawrence Island. This young ice is not reliable for subsistence hunting. If local hunters hauled a whale out onto young ice, it would break apart, according to Akeya.

For now, the pod of whales continues west towards Gambell and may potentially be seen again near Savoonga in the spring.

Image at top: A pod of Bowhead whales near Savoonga in December of 2021. Photo from David Akeya of Savoonga, used with permission.

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