Gene Angnaboogak was interviewed on May 8, 2008 by Matthew Druckenmiller in Wales, Alaska. In this interview, Gene talks about sea ice conditions around Wales and changes he has observed in his lifetime. He discusses the effect of wind and current on the ice, a lack of flat ice developing in the fall, the dangers of spinning ice, and learning about ice safety from elders. He also shares an experience when he observed unusual waves.
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How ice conditions impacted the recent spring whaling season
Difference between present and past ice conditions, and difference in fall freeze-up
Ideal ice conditions and wind preferred for hunting on the sea ice
Effect of wind creating waves and causing higher tides
Hearing the ice moving
Changes in the dominant wind direction
Understanding the ocean currents
Hunting from the ice, and animals being sensitive to noise
Being safe on the ice and watching for cracks
Dangers of places where the ice is spinning
Lack of flat ice compared with the past, and changes in formation of pressure ridges
Lessons from the elders about ice safety and spinning ice
Observations of unusual waves
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MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Well, the first question is just, this year, how has the ice conditions impacted the spring bowhead hunt?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: I kinda think -- think it was okay, except for maybe it -- a little bit rough. On -- near the where the launch is. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: But it was mostly the -- less open water we had. We had to wait for it to -- when there was game and --
There’d be some game, but then it wasn’t quite enough open water to be really chasing any kind of game.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh, it’s -- when I was speaking with Winton (Weyapuk, Jr.) earlier he -- he said something that it was closed for a while but then -- and then it opened up.
But when it opened up, it opened really quickly? GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. Did you -- you see bowheads off in the distance?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: I might’ve seen just one blow this year, but I haven’t seen them like we used to.
I think they had passed either further out or early for us to be really chasing any kind of bowhead this year.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. But then in terms of belugas -- ha -- have the ice conditions been -- been right for -- for hunting belugas?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: I would think so, it’s just the -- mostly the high winds and maybe a little bit rough surf that kinda kept us from really chasing them on the -- on the boat.
We -- we’d probably chase them, but then we’d probably would have to turn back to head back to calmer waters to be safe.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. Wh -- when you look down at the ice this year, how -- how does it compare to in the past?
Is -- is there anything different this year or -- or is it a typical shorefast ice?
I’m talking about the shorefast ice now. Is it similar to the past or is it different?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: I kinda think it was almost little later to freeze up and didn’t quite do as much as -- hunting as we wanted this fall ‘cause either the waters weren’t that open or the crew members weren’t real interested in going boating ‘cause either the prices of fuel or --
or just not enough guys real interested at the moment. Or s -- they’d either be busy with their job or --
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Doing something else besides ready -- ready to go boating.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. Would you consider this -- this -- just where -- how far off the shore ice extends, is that typical?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah, it’s -- it’s probably -- I can’t quite recall how it was at exactly this fall, but it just took a lot -- little longer to freeze up and then once it did it --
maybe it wasn’t as smooth as we wanted it to be. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: You know, for going out.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So -- so it’s fairly rough this year?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Not as rough as years before, but I think early this fall it was just harder to get guys all interested in real hunting.
‘Cause either they would leave their boat up at the corral, which is near the reindeer camp there, and they had it -- their boat up there when it should’ve been down at the beach already.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm. The boats were there because they -- they -- they use them in the lagoon?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah. The -- They use them for either going fishing and camping, and then the snow came in kinda just freeze the boats to the ground or whatever and they -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: -- try to -- There weren’t enough guys to go dig ‘em out.
Be out, ready and they would’ve been out on the beach instead. Or down on -- down closer to the ocean side instead of up there at corral.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm. Well, when -- when you do -- this time of year, when you’re looking to go out hunt bowheads or -- or belugas or even seals or walrus, what -- what -- what type of ice conditions do you consider ideal for -- for going out and using the ice -- and using the ice to -- for hunting?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Usually, you’d like at least -- at least a quarter mile of open water and some ice to kinda --
Not real open, but some ice beyond quarter mile so you can have a closer chance to chase them sea mammals.
Whereas, when it’s real open there’s more room for that sea mammal to escape to open water. Or through open water.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. And -- and -- and which -- what winds actually cause that -- that lead to be more narrow?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Usually, we get southwest. It kinda closes the -- the open water where we want to chase it.
We like to have it a little bit -- I think maybe north. Some sort northeast or north -- preferably north wind than south wind.
'Cause south wind, it's -- poses a little bit risk where you can get blocked in by passing ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: And you can’t go to your launch in an emergency case.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So a -- a southwest wind closes that -- GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: -- lead and brings the pack ice closer? GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And northeast will -- will open the lead?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah. But then during the fall, the northwest wind, it’s kinda have more tendency -- have to have -- to have a bigger swells. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: That’s usually northwest. Northwest wind that’ll have -- make the ice -- I mean, the ocean rougher. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Maybe north. Or northeast would be calmer than northwest wind.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm. So when -- when you see a northwest wind and -- does --does that impact the -- the shore ice?
I mean, do -- do -- do you ever see the sea level rise with -- with a certain wind direction?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Oh yeah, it -- northwest wind they usually have higher tide than other winds.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm. Do you ever see that -- actually, those -- those high tides break the ice? The shore ice?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Only -- I seen it once happen, but it was during the spring. Somewhere in June part of -- Ice was bending and then it finally broke. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: And I haven’t seen that before, but it was very interesting where you could see the waves bending the ice before it break.
And I haven’t seen that. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Maybe just once in my lifetime.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. Well, yesterday when we were out, maybe we were about two miles north of town out -- out at the lead by these -- a fairly big ridge.
And -- and I was -- I was walking towards the coast with this instrument that I was dragging on the sled and Winton (Weyapuk, Jr.) and Chris (Petrich) were at the lead.
And I came to the first set of ridges and there's an extension that went out -- GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Uh-huh. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: -- towards the lead.
And there was a crack at the -- at the lead and I -- and I could hear the -- the ice creaking like a door. GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Uh-huh.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Like just "eh, eh, eh" (creaking noises). GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: With the -- I mean, with the rising water. Is it -- have you heard that before? GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: I was -- I’d never heard that. I had never heard that so -- so loud and clear before where I just hear it.
Is that -- is that a sign of -- that the ice is unstable and could break out or is that just a normal -- ?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah, it’s kinda a sign that it’s -- once a certain type of wind hit that crack where it’s moving, then in -- we kinda don’t want to go down side of that crack, 'cause we might get caught in the open ice -- open water.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. And -- and then which direction would that be -- wind would that be?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: To take ice, usually a northeast wind it’ll blow out. But then if the currents -- it’s usually follow the current.
But if it’s big enough and high enough, it’ll -- the wind will kinda have a tendency to blow it if the current's not strong enough to let it flow in a certain directions.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And what’s -- you know, what’s the dominant wind direction here?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Lately, we’ve -- we’ve had a little more south wind than usual.
Whereas before, when I was younger, there was just mostly some sort of north wind. But right now I kinda notice it’s -- we tendency to have somewhat more south -- south, southerly winds that compare to when I was younger.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm. And what -- and what about the currents? Do they change at all throughout the year? Or are they pretty steady?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah, the currents -- it’s -- it’s kinda the thing we gotta watch when we’re out hunting, ‘cause there’s --
I used to hear from my elders that there was maybe three main currents between here and Siberia side. And there’s -- everybody kinda think it’s going one direction, but then there’s what I hear from the elders was there was maybe three currents.
I don’t know exactly what or how far this current is.
When the currents change, but it would be going against each other at a certain area on the water. ‘Cause you could see it. The dirt or whatever is on the water is going up north, and then right where it meets the other current it’s going the other direction. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: But that’s -- it’s usually when you’re out there a lot, you’ll see that. I haven’t seen it that -- that often before, but I’ll see it once in a while.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. And -- and those currents are between here and Little Diomede or -- ?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Between here and Siberia side. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Okay, so the whole strait? (Bering Strait) GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER. Hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: And I thought -- I used to thought it was just one current. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: But then it’s -- there’s two or three currents at certain times.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And in -- and in the spring is the current, the set of the current, does it -- does it pick up or stay pretty much the same?
The current that -- the closest current. The -- the one that flows against the landfast (ice).
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah, most of the current in early -- early spring, it’s usually going from south to north.
And that’s when we kinda have tendency to see more walrus with that south wind. And it's probably south, not exactly sure what current it is, but it’s the south wind that we see them walruses more often. ‘Cause they -- they just ride the ice up. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: And might ride up north on the ice.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. Well, and -- and when you guys are out -- out whaling for either -- for bowheads or belugas do -- do you try to do that from the shore ice or do you also just take your boats out and look for whales from the boats? GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Or do you camp on the -- on the shore ice?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah, we are -- we usually wait on the shore ice.
But then when the ocean’s calm enough, we’ll -- we’ll hop on a piece of ice, drift ice, and wait on that ‘cause sometimes you have a better luck on the shore ice ‘cause you’re further away from the village where there’s --
probably the game might smell the village when -- like when there’s trash burning or too much snow machine traffic. It may be just too noisy for game to be real close to the shore -- shore ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: And it would be better to be on the drift ice.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. I never thought about that. So you think the bowheads can actually sense the -- the village?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah, they’ll -- they kinda sense noise. If there’s lots of -- lots of snow machines or outboards in a certain area, they’ll kinda avoid that. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Avoid that area or be more cautious. Maybe humans when they hear -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. GENE ANGNABOOGAK: -- vehicles or motorized noise.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. So then the -- this time of year when you are traveling just out on the shore ice without a boat, what do you look for to -- to -- to see if it’s -- if it’s stable? Or -- or -- or if it’s -- it’s going to break out?
I -- I -- I know last year I was here on May 21st, May 22nd, it was -- it was late May, and we were out there with Davis (Ongtowasruk) doing stuff and it seemed -- everything seemed pretty solid.
And Davis said that "Well, it could go pretty soon." And then two days later, as we were leaving, it was breaking up and going away.
And I just -- I wasn’t sure what you actually look for to determine when it’s gonna -- when it’s gonna go -- the shorefast (ice).
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Oh, yeah, we kinda try to keep our eyes out for cracks in the ice or snow covered cracks.
When I learned from my elders, they used to have a walking stick to see where it’s safe to walk instead of just walking out there without a walking stick and then fall through soft snow and hit the -- a crack and you might have, you know, maybe get wet and -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Little bit dangerous if you get wet out there.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. Is -- is there a Iñupiaq word for those cracks?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: I can’t remember what they used to call the cracks. ‘Cause I haven’t heard it.
I used to hear it when I was younger but then right now we’re -- we’re kinda losing our language slowly.
Whereas when I was a kid the -- the elders would always speak the Iñupiaq and us younger ones would always -- that didn’t know it, we'd ask the elders and then what -- what they -- what they -- what they just said and translate it for us.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm. What about when you are out boating on -- on a floe or amongst floes out beyond the shore ice, what -- what -- what do you look for to see if -- if it’s -- if it’s safe to go out? Is it just mainly the swells or -- ?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah, it’s either the swells and the current and -- once -- thing you got to watch out there, I learned from my elders, is that when the -- the ice is turning or spinning then you -- it’s not safe to hang around that ice ‘cause you can get trapped in there real easily.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: What causes the ice to spin?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: I’m not exactly sure. I think it’s the combination of different currents and wind.
It’ll head up north and then at a certain point it’ll start turning and the ice just like -- just turning and it’s not safe to be around that ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: ‘Cause we got caught one time when I was younger and we barely got out of that turning ice.
‘Cause once you notice it’s turning, it’s just safe to go ahead for the launch here -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: And it’ll be safer when you’re out of that spinning ice.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: But just in -- in general, when you -- when you think of how the ice was when you were a child is -- is it much different today? Or --
I know people talk about, you know, global climate change and stuff like that, but for -- from you perspective is it any different?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: We used to have -- when it’s freeze-up and fall, we used to have more flat -- usually more times of the year it’ll freeze flat, and then now it’s, you know, not as flat as it used to be when I was younger. Like, maybe in the early ‘60s, 1960s or so. 1970s.
And then after that, it all depends how the -- how calm it is when it freeze up in the fall. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: But usually it -- it’ll freeze flattened, but then it would -- either the high tide and the waves would break up the flat ice and then it would freeze with little rough or higher ice. Rough ice, we call it.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: What about the -- the size of the ridges? You know, count out there, are they similiar?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: They’re about the same size, but I kinda see it once in a while when we see the ice pile up on top the shorefast ice. That kinda happens quicker than when I was younger.
It usually take longer time for it to pile up. Right now, it’s just -- it’ll pile up quicker like in maybe a day, whereas before it took a little longer.
I’m not sure exactly how much longer. But now you could see it in one day.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. Is that because it’s thinner, you think?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: I kinda think it’s either a higher tide and maybe stronger current, I’m not exactly sure.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm. Yeah, it makes sense.
I know I’ve heard people in Barrow say the same thing, but there I think they -- the other thought is that it’s -- it’s thinner ice so it’s just -- it’s much easier to break and pile up. GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: But -- but I guess, yeah, if you have a stronger current, that -- that could do it as well.
So when -- when you were -- when you were young, what -- what other things did the elders teach about just being safe out on the ice?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: It -- the one time certain people always see this turning or spinning water, and I hear the -- you can’t get out of that spinning water sometimes if your boat's not -- your outboard’s not powerful enough.
But I haven’t really seen it before. But they say there would be like a turning current -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: -- at certain part of the year. Any -- any place on the water. And then the elders would keep an eye out for those.
‘Cause if they get caught in that turning water then it’s very difficult to get out. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: But I haven’t actually seen it myself. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. GENE ANGNABOOGAK: It’s any time of the year.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. And is -- is that where those -- those different currents meet? Or I hear it could be any -- any area with --
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: I think it’s -- I don’t know what causes the turning water, but -- what’s the actual cause of that. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: But I -- I did witness one time on the ocean we were -- it was fairly calm and then all of the sudden three big waves come out from the ocean. I don’t know what cause that.
They disappeared like before it hit the -- the mountain. We were over here. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: It was calm, but then all of a sudden three big waves ca -- formed.
Very, like strange, because I haven’t seen it happen. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Just three waves, big waves came out of the ocean. They formed somehow. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: And I haven’t seen that be -- again since that one time.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Where -- what -- when was that?
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: This was about maybe -- maybe a little over fifteen years ago. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: We went -- we were coming back from Tin City and then one of my friends saw a float on the -- between here and Tin City on the mountain side here.
And he wanted that float for his harpoon. Balloon. And we went to go get it and we almost got caught -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. GENE ANGNABOOGAK: -- right there.
That was that same dream -- same day I was talking to you about those three waves that formed from out of calm water.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. I wonder if that could be a landslide or something under -- GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Yeah.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Kinda like a small tidal wave.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: ‘Cause it’s strange. ‘Cause usually we see 'em from a distance. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: But this, they came out just before they hit the mountain edge. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: And I hadn’t seen that before again.
Maybe there was an earthquake somewhere or something happened to form those waves. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: ‘Cause these waves were like maybe eight feet high. From -- from maybe one foot waves, normal -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: -- that day. Somehow those three waves formed. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.
GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Or got created somehow.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: That’s interesting. Well, those are the only questions I had. GENE ANGNABOOGAK: Okay.
MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: But, thank you.