Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Luther Komonaseak

Luther Komonaseak was interviewed on May 9, 2008 by Matthew Druckenmiller in Wales, Alaska. In this interview, Luther talks about changing sea ice conditions, the relationship between ice conditions and whaling, the effect of wind and current on ice conditions, thinning ice, the fast movement of the ice, and the presence of open water. He also discusses dangerous ice conditions and how to be safe on the ice.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-22

Project: Sea Ice Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: May 9, 2008
Narrator(s): Luther Komonaseak
Interviewer(s): Matthew Druckenmiller
Transcriber: Denali Whiting
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
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Slideshow
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Sections

Observations of thinning ice

Effect of ice conditions on whaling, and extended period of south wind

Fast movement of ice and presence of open water

Effect of the current on ice conditions

Changes in the shorefast ice edge and ice thickness

Pressure ridges and extensions added on to the ice

Ice safety, effect of the wind, and watching for cracks

Dangerous conditions

The different currents

Traveling by skin boat between Wales and Diomede Island in June, and presence of shorefast ice

Change in timing of break-up

Flat ice and lack of pressure ridges

Times when the Bering Strait froze all the way across, and whales got trapped

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Transcript

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: I’m still new to this, so -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: I -- I don’t -- I’m not used to interviewing, so I’m not necessarily that good at it. But I’m learning. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: But it’s -- it's really a useful way to understand a certain place. Everywhere is different.

And the -- that's one of the things that we're interested in is how places like Wales are different from -- from other places in terms of sea ice and also how -- how the people use and understand sea ice.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: So my observation about the ice thinning out is also flying, I guess, between Gambell and here.

It was quite evident last year. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Like Clyde was saying, I guess. So -- but, you know, when the ice pile up out -- when we're flying really low with the -- our -- our (school) District plane.

No heavy ice out there, you know. No -- and this is, you know, like in the middle of winter. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: When we were coming back from out there. Well, not middle of winter, kinda like early spring.

And no big icebergs out there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: None at all. Where we used to see a lot of big icebergs -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- out there.

Floating ar -- floating around out there. You know, just -- just from being out there throughout the winter. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I mean, there’d be like that high ice out there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Where the boats are parked. Pressure just like that would be evident. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: This time it was -- I would say three feet at -- maybe, at the most. All the way down.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Right now? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I mean, last year. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Last year.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We had the chan -- when we had -- was flying that -- had a chance to --

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh, from Shish (Shishmaref)? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: From Savoonga, Gambell. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Savoonga, huh.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You know, we kinda like cut across coming from there. Well, I went both ways. Both direct -- both directions. From here to Gambell. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And then from Gambell here, straight flight, but flying very low and noticing the ice that piled up. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Pretty much all the same, you know, thickness. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I just -- that just kind of got my brain thinking. And it really says how -- said how -- how thin the ice is now, you know?

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. So I’ll just start with the -- I wanted to ask you a few questions about just how -- how -- how the ice conditions this year and in recent years has -- has impacted or affects the spring whaling.

The -- the bowhead, I mean. Or the -- or the beluga hunting.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: This year?

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: This -- this year, yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, that one time, when was it? About three weeks ago of last month, starting from like mid-April to end of the month, I guess, so -- or getting close, last week of the month.

There was a lot of south winds that came. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And it continued for about a week and a half, and I -- I’m not too sure how many whaling captains you interviewed around here and --

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Well, I just -- I've spoken with you and Winton (Weyapuk, Jr.) on this trip.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And I’m -- my -- maybe my timeframe is a little different than theirs as far as those type of things occurring.

Like, for instance, the south wind, week and a half, maybe two weeks maybe at the most. Continuously. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And we were -- there was a lot of ice going by from that -- from the wind -- south wind blow.

Comparing that to when there’s -- people weren't worried about the ice -- ice declining. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We’d -- we'd perceive movement of ice like three to four weeks at a time. But this one ran out quickly. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And that’s why we have this condition right now. Lots of open water.

See, the ice went by about a week, week and a half to go by. All full -- quite a bit of ice all plugged for that extent of time.

But in that timeframe, it only took two -- maybe at most two weeks to run out. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm-mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And that’s just the cause of this open water right now. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Comparing to like thirty years ago. Maybe twenty five years ago, thirty years ago, when we have a long south wind, lots of ice go by. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But that occurrence was longer back then. Maybe three or four weeks at a time that we’d be plugged in. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And probably still be going by right now as we speak, you know. Heavy ice as we call. Floe ice.

But it's -- right now as you can tell it’s -- it’s all gone. There’s -- there’s just -- there's no heavy ice out there.

Just might be what I was viewing from the air -- airplane the other day was like toward King Island, you know. Three or four square miles, that’s it out there. Trying to go by right now.

But you need -- I think you need way more than that.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: You mean -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: What -- what used to happen long time ago.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: You need more than that to --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I mean, it used to be more than that. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That would be going by. But it look like -- I would say that, well, yeah, it was three to four square miles of ice. And that was what, three days ago now. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. And so it --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That’s floating out there that’s trying to go by, but --

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Is it the winds or the currents that -- that pushes the ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Current. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: The current.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And they do get stronger in May. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And right now. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Huh.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That was what's -- All this ice you see right now that’s close by, this coming off the shore ice, breaking -- breaking off. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Breaking off. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Okay, so -- so all this ice out here that we see just beyond is actually --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Broken off from the edge, yeah. It’s not like from down south further. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: From Nome and beyond.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Well, is this -- is this shore ice that’s out here now, is that -- is this similar to how it’s been in the past?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No. As far as thickness. Well, the -- the -- the what do you call it, the ice edge is pretty much the same area. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That hasn’t seemed like never changed so far. But just the thickness -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- has changed quite dramatically, I guess.

In the '70s, when Mr. Christiansen harvested a whale and beyond that, you know, while I was growing up, ice used to be five feet.

Five or so feet thick ‘cause most of my (childhood), I followed my grandma go out -- grandparents or -- go out ice fishing in the wintertime. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It'd be January, February, you know, when they used to do ice -- spear fishing. That’s the time when that -- that kind of fishing occurred -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- back then.

But the ice used to be -- gee whiz, ‘cause you used to see people, when they cut their holes out, you know. It’s -- it’s five feet, four feet. About four feet, at least. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Unless those were like the layered ice, you know, ice come around -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- and got layered. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But, I don’t think that was the case because at the -- in '70s or after the '70s when like -- when maybe Raymond’s dad get a whale. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We’d be chopping the -- the edge to make a -- try to make a ramp -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- to pull up the whale.

Even back then, we noticed that the ice was a lot thicker.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. Yeah, now it’s -- it’s -- it's four feet and it’s -- and it’s late in the year, so -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Four feet?

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: In January, it would've been much -- much thinner.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Mm-hm. What I would assume is 23 inches last year, or something like that?

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Last year, I -- I remember when we were here --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I mean, I -- What have to try to understand is that at the ice edge versus in between, there’s different thickness, I do believe. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: ‘Cause, you know, at the ice edge there, it tends to pile up underneath. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: From maybe south winds or -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- or winds that bring the ice in. Mother Nature from stopping where you can see. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: If it wants that much ice it’ll, you know, pile it up or --

And then maybe that’s what -- sometimes you get a misunderstanding about that, is when ice on the -- on the edge start piling up, you know, so it layer -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- layer up. And you might see a different or misunderstand the -- the -- that part, because of the -- the ice layering like that.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, that is a problem when we’re trying to measure how thick the ice is.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You get closer to the edge and the ice may be thicker, and you’d think maybe that’s how it froze but --

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, it got blown in. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Pushed under. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Well, I noticed out here where you have your boat launch, there -- there -- there’s a -- that row of ridges where -- where the boats are placed. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Mm-hm.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And then there’s that extension.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yeah, yeah. The first year edge.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. When does that extension form?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We had that real cold spell, when was it, in February or -- ? I know both January and February were pretty cold.

And that’s when it -- it formed, I think. End of January, February. Middle of February, I think.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, and is that quite common to have one extension off this first row of main ridges?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. At times, it could be further out. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But the -- what I also observed flying this -- these past few days, going to Unalakleet, Shaktoolik, between here and Nome there are places where there is a lot of extension.

And that may be because of that south wind bringing the ice in and just anchoring it there, and when the north winds come it just didn’t blow out yet. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That might’ve been the case. But, way out there, you know.

With the -- that’s what I kinda thought happened. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: ‘Cause out there by -- out of Port Clarence, you know, for instance, you got the -- you can notice the -- well, I could anyway, the edge like this. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You can notice that and then beyond that there’s a great, long ways of extended ice. Extension ice, too. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That’s what I thought happened was that south wind came in and blew it in. And then just left it there when the north winds came. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Because there’s lots of open water down that way, too. Lots of open water.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: When you’re out --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That was when -- after the ice finished out, you know, going by from the south winds. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It just stayed behind. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And lots of open water down that way, too.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: When -- when you’re out on the -- on that extension ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Mm-hm. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: What do you look for to -- to make sure that it’s safe to be out on that?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Make -- with -- now we look to see if it’s secured right or anchored right to the main ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Or the first year's edge. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Attached somehow and the thickness. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And sometimes there will be -- pressure ridges will be built out there -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- on the extension ice. Most of the time, hardly any nowadays, you know. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Just, I don’t know. Just didn’t happen, I guess, when the south winds came.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. So but here, if you were out on the extension ice and there was a -- say a -- a northeast wind, would that be something to be concerned about?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, it would be, ‘cause it's offshore wind. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And -- but we have to watch, I mean, look out for cracks and -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- and either, lot of times they’ll be ice going like that and -- between the current and the --

And it's just like a big jigsaw puzzle, I mean, there’s interlocking places out there where it’s hanging on -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- to -- on the extension ice. Hanging on to the main ice.

I always call that main ice the first year edge. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And any word, you know, it’s -- Like for instance, right now, what you just explained where our boat launch -- boats are. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: From here to the boats is like the main ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And that’s the first year edge.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. And then everything else is just the -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The extension. Yeah.

There’s probably interlocking places -- areas where that extension is locked into the main ice and can’t go anywhere, but at times they’ll be moving if you -- if you notice and observe very carefully.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Well, I -- I noticed two days ago --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: There’s lot of cracks out there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: -- when we were out there, I could see a crack and I could see an -- an extension that was just kinda lifting. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: I could hear it.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Exactly. It’s still floating, you know. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Whereas the main ice is anchored at -- at maybe different points.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. So when you -- when you go beyond the shore ice in -- in a boat for beluga and, you know, for walrus, what -- what type of ice conditions are -- or ice-wind-currents are -- are -- make it safe to travel out there in a boat?

Or what conditions are dangerous when -- when -- when you’re out on a boat beyond the shore ice?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I never quite catch your --

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: The question is, is it like, you know, just if -- if you were to take your boat from the shore ice out -- out boating amongst the floes. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Uh-huh.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: What -- what conditions make it safe? I mean, is it a certain wind direction, that it's safe for --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, like, yeah, for instance here north -- northeast is basically what we were -- The wind directions we were -- I mean, like northwest is not a right direction -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- to be out there. South winds.

Currents in April are less than currents in May. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Like my dad used to always tell us -- tell me this. ‘Cause as I was growing up, he’d make me aware of the dangers of the -- the currents and the wind. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: East wind is very dangerous around here. ‘Cause of the unpredictable high winds or -- it’s coming off the land. In other words, it’s --

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Russia. Oh, I mean, your east wind. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, from the mountains.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So it’s unpredictable when it’s coming off the land?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, it could either pick up real quick and fast 'cause it -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: There’s quite a few stories about hunters getting caught out there in the east wind.

In our language, it’s nunasrugniq. It means it’s coming off the land and so very strong.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Can you -- how do -- do you know how to spell that? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Nunasrugniq? MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You'd have to ask Puk (Winton Weyapuk, Jr.). MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh, okay. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Just ask him what. East. East wind. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: East? Nu -- nunasrugniq? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Nunasrugniq, yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Nunasrugniq.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, it’s off the land. Nuna means land. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Okay. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: So it’s just -- it’s just a -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Nunasrugniq.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Nuna is N-U-M-A, I think. Nuna. Or N-A. Nuna. And then we just add that nunasrugniq. That srugniq part. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh, okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: For east wind. ‘Cause it’s, yeah. It mean -- it means land. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Wind from the land. East wind. It’s no good. I got caught myself out there in that type of wind.

And then this little current, it’s pretty strong from that direction. Besides south wind, you know. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Southeast, south wind.

UNKNOWN WOMAN: Hi! MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hello. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Hi (inaudible).

And northeast wind off is more of a different -- different direction. It’s what we favor.

Right below the mountain gets very calm and that current sort of dies down.

And then once we get away from this Cape Mountain, usually that northeast wind usually heads north, ‘cause it’s -- it -- the wind is from -- or it may be forming ice up there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: From this northeast direction. I mean, there’s such a big difference sometimes. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: On that direction of wind, ‘cause like I said, you know, May -- and I noticed that yesterday there’s quite a bit of current out there. Ice was going by pretty fast.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, I heard Winton and Gene (Angnaboogak) and even Raymond Seetook, I think last year when I spoke with him, talked about the number of different currents out there. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Mm-hm.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Between here and the Russian side.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, the ones that I had experience with was the main current. I guess two main currents, South of Wales current and the Diomede current.

And then there’s probably smaller currents in between, but those two I experienced very well because I felt them.

We were -- as we were a child and with a small motor and a small boat and -- and being kinda experienced in that type of thing 'cause -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- I grew up boating. My -- my parents -- my dad send me out to Diomede when I was only 11 years old. 9 years old, something like that.

But even back then ‘cause the outboard motors were kinda small and the big skin boats so you’re going along quite slow some -- at times. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So you -- you use --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You could feel the current hit you.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: You took skin boats back? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. On the way back then.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Wow. That’s -- with -- with an outboard?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: There was three -- three skin boats and they all were equipped with like an outboard with 30 horse, you know. 25 horse maybe, you know.

Big, long 28-foot boats. They make big skin boats back then, too.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: This was in the '70s? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, way back. Yeah, in the '70s, '60s. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh, okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I was like only 9 or 11 years old and it was in -- By golly, it was in June when we took off, there was still ice here. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Mid-June. 'Cause on my birthday, it’s June 9, and when I was growing up there'd still be ice and it start going -- going away, you know. You’d still have shore ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I remember hopping on that boat in June. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Going to Diomede?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We had to walk out on the ice and there was still shore -- pretty rotten, but there was still shore ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, to go to Diomede. Three skin boats that time and I -- I would think that at that time the ice was like five, six feet. The main ice.

Just by observing the fishing holes that they made in January and February. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Was it --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The reason I say that and it’s kept in my head is just because of my birthday. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: June 9. And then observing the -- the ice that -- it's still around, you know. Compared to now, now it’s going out -- away in end of May.

When was the -- that one time, May 28, all the way out. Last year, I think.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, I was -- I was here. I think I left. I was here May 20th to May 26th, and as we were leaving it was starting to really break apart. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Mm. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: You could see.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Like seven, eight years ago, six, seven, eight years ago, that happened, too, and my boat almost got taken away with the ice. I had to -- we had to jump -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: You had to (inaudible) -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We had to jump on a little ice cakes on the main ice, you know? MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The -- the extension ice had already gone and it started working on the main ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And it start breaking up. So we had to get to -- hop on ice cakes to get to the boat. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Maybe three, four-foot crack we had to jump one time.

I mean, we had to put a makeshift board, two by six, I guess, or eight. We drug down just for that purpose. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: ‘Cause somebody had come up and say there’s lots of cracks in between your boat and the -- and the shore ice.

So I drug a -- I drug a board down and snow machined to my boat. My boat was -- it lucked out.

The ice just cracked around the boat. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The boat was still on top of the ice.

In other words, it never -- the ice never break up right in between the boat or right in the middle of the boat where it would’ve slide in, you know. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And I think that ice was no more than three feet. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That I’ve heard. ‘Cause it really, really quick it busted open and start floating away. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And it was northeast wind that time, too. Kinda blew out quite quick. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We were working on those four homes on -- on this side up here across the bridge. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: That -- that --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The new homes, yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We were working on those ones, and had to rush out there and rescue the boat. I don’t know what the foreman think, but --

I guess he knew what we were doing, he knew it was an emergency.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, well you found a good use for the two by eight.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Yeah. We just -- I think we left them out there, too. 'Cause we couldn't retrieve them after.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Well, what -- what about the -- the ridges that you see being built out there now -- nowadays?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, they’re -- they’re like getting less and they're not as high as they used to be. Yeah.

The ice is more flat and not much pressure ridges anymore. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You’d see at least -- and this could be from the like south wind coming in for so -- for many days and then just piling up out there on the main ice.

You'd see at least four -- three, four, five high pressure ridges. Not right now, you don't see very much. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Just that one by the boat, maybe. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And basically that, and then maybe two, three smaller ones. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But, yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So you used to --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Then there’d be like below the mountain, over here on this side, and then where our boat is there now, stretching between those -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: In that area, there’d be four or five big pressure ridges.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: How -- how long would it take those to form? Do -- do they form over night or, I mean, just in a day or --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Probably, like, sometimes in a day, but, you know, not that humongous there.

Maybe it takes about three or four days. Five days. Depending on the wind and the current, I guess.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Now there’s like -- like these ridges out here. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: The one by the boat.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, like -- yeah. That one, I don’t know when that occurred, maybe I was gone, but --

Like them south winds we had in April, I was surprised that that type of thing happened. It’s just -- stayed flat like this right now.

When the north comes -- when the north wind finally came. And you can tell ‘cause the contrast bet -- when you have open water and the ice edge. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You -- you can tell pretty easily the -- the outline of the ice -- shore ice out there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Just by looking at it from the village here.

Yup, not anymore, those type of pressure ridges. We -- in the -- when we started the -- Like in 1987, that --

There were some occurrences in 1987 when I started my whaling crew that -- the ice froze all the way to Russia side. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And that’s why the whales were blocked in and -- I mean, you know, couldn’t migrate ‘cause of no breathing holes. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Uh-huh.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, it’s -- I always remember that, too. ’87 and also in ’91 and ’94, I guess, that -- that type of thing happened. But more so in ’87.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Because it was really freezing up across the Russian in those years?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Maybe to the island. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: To -- to Diomede?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. To Big -- Little Diomede. It was visible from the mountain. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It was visible from the migrating whales. And in ’87, we can actually tell how -- how thick the ice was. I think it was five inches or six inches or less, maybe less than that. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Really flat, long ways.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So it just froze in place out here?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, it froze in place out there. Very big pan of ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Flatter than heck. I mean, you could land planes day in and day out.

And the reason why I’m saying it was stuck is because the -- you could see the current going underneath. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And little chunks of ice going underneath the -- that five-inch thick ice out there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The whales couldn’t break the ice to make breathing holes. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And I think they -- that’s what they do once in a while. They migrate. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. There was a lot of whales going north, I mean, trying to go north.

But then there was a lot of whales returning. And that’s how we kinda knew that it was iced in. They’re iced in.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. But did that make whaling easy? I mean, or -- or --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, it did make whaling easy that time. And maybe those -- those occurred at those years because maybe those were colder years, you know. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It had to be. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We also -- I also experienced another ice blocking where whales couldn’t migrate and this occurred in late '70s, maybe ’78.

There’s a -- there’s a airline that spotted the belugas almost more -- a little more than half ways to Shishmaref. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Fourth inlet, something like that. Iqpik, they call it. That’s where we had to go anyway.

Anyway, this pilot had spotted belugas stranded out there. Also where they were also blocked in and the Shishmaref people were really harvesting beluga.

‘Cause they only had a little tiny breathing hole, couple of them. Take turns to breath. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And somehow this pilot spotted it so several groups of whalers -- ‘cause I was on one -- one of the groups -- groups -- three of us that went up.

We had to follow the -- we were the -- had to go to the -- this place called Iqpik. It's more on the Shishmaref side. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: More than half ways between here and Shish. Shishmaref.

And got to that point and we headed out going like more than half -- going pretty good speed for forty-five minutes out and ran into these -- these breathing holes where belugas were.

At that time also, the ice had -- what you call it? Froze all the way to Little Diomede.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Wow. So it was flat the whole way? Or did you see some ridges out there? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, no we just -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Just --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Just like this between -- going from here to that ice edge right now.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And does that happen in April when it’s -- that strong current comes?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: When was that happen that time? I know it was in the spring. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Maybe -- Yeah, April, I think it was.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. And then what -- when -- when that finally broke out, was it -- was it the winds or the currents or -- ?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The winds, I guess. Yeah.

That was an amazing trip for me anyway. I was still young and full of energy, I guess. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. Yeah, that would be --

I wonder if that could be seen in the old satellite images.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, and I can’t remember the date. ’78 maybe. ’77, ’76. I know I just came back from pipelines that time. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: ‘Cause I had a brand new snowmachine. I bought a brand new snowmachine. Evinrude snowmachine that time. They don’t make them anymore now, of course. It was a Evinrude brand.

But I -- I believe that was about the right timing, ’76, ’77.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, I’ve heard -- I’ve heard people say that it used to be that it would freeze up all the way across.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: All the way to the island. I don’t know about beyond there. Maybe -- maybe beyond there, also. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: ‘Cause it seemed like the whales would navigate them and then find breathing holes, you know, with their sonar or whatever they have. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Or however they locate the open water. You’d think they would find that breathing holes between here and Diomede if there was, you know, a path or something. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. So you -- so --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But the -- but the -- the floe ice out there was like coming from south -- south, you know. It was like really packed in -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: -- against our shore ice. And coming from lots of south wind, too, that time. That might’ve created the -- the block, too. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But I don’t recall. Remember -- or I don’t remember. That -- those -- those -- that like when the south wind occurred and why it occurred. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And why the ice got blocked.

I do -- I do remember the incidents very clearly. ‘Cause -- The reason why I know in ’87 was ‘cause that’s when I started my whaling crew. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm-mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I bought my -- we lost a darting gun. Whales took it under, couldn’t find it and he took it under the -- the -- that ice that, you know, flat ice that was -- that had blocked the whales.