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Billy Adams, Interview 3

Billy Adams was interviewed on November 12, 2013 by Karen Brewster and Oliver Dammann in the conference room of the North Slope Borough's Department of Wildlife Management offices in Barrow, Alaska. In this interview, Billy talks about the changes in the sea ice conditions near Barrow that he has observed in his lifetime, the unique conditions of the 2013 whaling season, and the effect of climate change on the ice and on the future of whaling.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-02

Project: Sea Ice in Northern Alaska
Date of Interview: Nov 12, 2013
Narrator(s): Billy Adams
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Dyre Oliver Dammann
Videographer: Dyre Oliver Dammann
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Learning to hunt and whale as a boy

Marking and building a trail to whale camp in the 1970s and 1980s

Learning about ice and listening to stories from the elders

Appreciation for parents and education

Changes in the ice and time of freezeup

Ice and whaling conditions in Winter/Spring 2013

Learning and being positive

Identifying a good and safe whaling location

Relevance of existing knowledge to changing ice conditions

Changes in grounded ice and large pans of ice

Spring 2013 whaling season and ice, wind and current conditions

Trail building

Weather forecasting

Use of technology and maps

Selecting trail location and route

Effect of climate change on future of whaling

Effect of ice condtions on trail building and participation

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KAREN BREWSTER: This is Karen Brewster and I’m here in Barrow, Alaska with Billy Adams. Oliver Dammann is also joining us doing the interview and this is for the Sea Ice Project Jukebox.

Thank you, Billy, for taking some time to talk with us. Can you just start out a little bit telling us about you? When you started whaling and hunting?

BILLY ADAMS: Well, okay. Good afternoon or good morning. My name is Billy Adams and I was born and raised in Barrow, September 4, 1965.

My parents are Baxter and Rebecca Adams and I am the youngest of 12 children and I have lived here all of my 47 years of my life or is it 48?

KAREN BREWSTER: Forty-eight.

BILLY ADAMS: But I've enjoyed hunting, learning from my parents, my uncles, all of my brothers and sisters and many knowledgeable whalers around the slope.

And I started whaling at a very young age because there was a time where, you know, in the sixties, seventies was a time where people were using snowmachines and

I was fortunate to be with a successful whaling family and, you know, I had all my brothers would be able to take care of me at a very young age and being out there learning how to just being out there at maybe six or seven.

By the time I was 12 years old I remember going into the boat for the first time.

So, you know, I was paddling with my -- my sister was in the boat also because most of the people were at town and there was just a few of us left out there and

my sister and myself, my brother and his friend Edward Olemaun was a boat steerer and my brother was a harpooner, Jacob.

So at a young age, you know, I was very excited. After that, you know, I never gave up -- I mean I -- it was so exciting for me I had to come back every year.

Since then I haven’t missed a year of whaling because, you know, I enjoy it and a lot of hard work, didn’t sleep much, but, you know, I learned to make coffee, you know, at that age and cleaning the tent.

Then, you know, I became a teenager and really started working on the trails with many great leaders.

You know, you have to follow the leaders to learn -- watch and learn. That was the only way I learned was watching and learning what kind of ice to be on,

and where to go find a good spot for whaling and, you know, we set out camp out there.

With other crews were involved too with us.

There was always maybe three or four other crews, in one place making a trail.

So, you know, my Uncle Wesley and Uncle Jonathan used to go out on foot and marking a trail which direction we should be going to and, you know, we started to make the trails. Sometimes it would last for a week.

Making a trail was hard because we would go a little further in those 1980’s, I remember around from the late 70’s to the late 80’s I remember we’d go generally maybe at least four or five miles out on solid ice, you know.

There was more multi-year ice and a lot of -- a lot of -- a lot more solid ice that time.

Big pans of ice where, you know, you have to go crossing --

And all then was a lot safer that time, you know, those late 70’s to the maybe the mid-90’s.

Those were really safe times for whaling and, you know, that’s what I seen and when I grew up, you know, that’s where most I spend my time learning about ice at that --

during my teen years because, you know, I was able to understand the Inupiaq language. And so I, you know, learned -- have to learn how to get up early and stay up late.

We went through a lot of places -- learned about a lot of young ice through the one of the great polar hunters was Norman Leavitt

and I used to go out with him, you know, in the November, December, January, February, and into March he would be polar bear hunting. So I

really liked to follow him when he was out polar bear hunting. I learned a lot of my polar bear hunting from that man and from my Uncle Whitlam Adams.

You know those -- I remember Norman would be catching a lot of polar bear all the time when I was young man.

He passed away, you know.

A lot of the elders like Arnold Brower, Sr. -- got to talk to him and tell me stories.

I learned a lot of my hunting through stories -- listening and putting it into my -- my memory, my brains.

What did you know -- like a movie into my brains.

So, you know, every time I go out I really enjoyed who I learned from.

There was a lot of other captains who I really learned from, too.

You know, my Uncle Robert Aiken and then Tom Brower, you know, I’d go to his store when he had his store.

You know, after school I’d go hang out with him when he liked to tell me stories for a couple hours then I’d go home and do my homework.

But, you know, one time I bought a snowmachine from him. He asked me how much I had and I told him I had $300 I saved up and he asked me which snowmachine you want.

So I bought a snowmachine from Tom Brower's because, you know, I really liked to listen and he enjoyed me and I really wanted to go hunting with him. Well, if you want to go hunting, you need a snowmachine.

So he had a bunch of snowmachines lined up and he asked me which one, and I had only $300.

But it was worth it, you know, I learned how to go out and my parents supported me.

And then I started going out on my own maybe when I was 14 years old, you know, I was able to do the things that needed to be done to catch an animal or go camping.

But, you know, it would be -- my father would say don’t tell mom. That kind of stuff, you know. Don’t tell mom.

But, you know, my parents, you know, they lived a hard life and, you know, I think my mother didn’t go past the sixth grade, so did my father. But they found jobs and raised a really successful family.

And you know, they knew how to survive. They went through a lot of transition.

They had to speak little English, but they had to work a lot too to make money to get by.

And now we have a really good education system here on the slope.

You know, there's people that are doing very well I think -- the youngsters here.

They're very lucky to have, you know, good schools and good teachers.

And I'm fortunate to start to raise a family. I love my family, and I hope that I will teach my -- my children about the ice and hunting and

hope they're able to go out with me as much as they can, you know, when they’re not in school.

I like to talk to them about hunting and the ice, too, and all the animals that go with it, you know.

So, you know, I talked about some of the multi-year ice that, you know, we have seen in -- from the late 70's to the maybe the mid-90’s.

But now, you know, we get into the age where it's 2000 and up to now for the past 15 years maybe the ice has changed a lot, you know.

Back in the mid-80’s, I remember we had earlier freeze up in September.

Sometimes, you know, the month of September during all of those times is a time of ice free and a lot of wind.

But, you know, it starts to freeze at that time.

A lot of snow, but, you know, now it's getting to be later freeze up during maybe -- many people started to call it the new normal in the past 15 years. So

now we start to see freeze up in the mid to late October, you know.

And like this year is a little more unique, because it's November 12 and we're finally seeing slush now, you know.

It’s been a very warm month of November.

Usually if we see a lot of warmth of -- for a month in the early winter, then we see a cold April or May.

So, you know, I took notes like last year was almost the same and then the month of April and May was colder period.

And last year we had east winds that were started in like November.

Then the ocean was wide open, you know, it was ice free.

I mean there was some shorefast ice, that I should say, but, you know, the lead was all open from November all the way to March.

So we had that big period of open water and then, you know, it's whaling time is right there.

We're getting to see people are excited because there's a lot of open water then overnight, you know, the wind changed.

It decided to change on us and we had that ice situation where, you know, there was no open lead for a while then when it did open it opened to where we thought the whales were going to pass through, but there was two open leads. I think we had to --

we had a good chance to go out and catch a whale and, you know, there was a lead system that was into the normal place where we would be whaling.

But, you know, we didn’t see no whales. We'd see some beluga whales and, you know, that’s a good sign.

Usually after that it's a bunch of bowheads that come by, but -- another six to eight miles out there was a -- there was a bigger lead out there and all the whales had used that lead system that was further out from anything.

I think it was from like Point Franklin -- went all the way around Barrow and then it ended up north of the point here, Point Barrow.

So all the whales went all around and nobody -- you know, we’d be in a place where it's like a lake.

Some days, you know, somebody was lucky enough to almost harpoon a whale. You know, we'd get one whale that come by that way or two whales, but, you know, nobody didn’t a whale during April and May.

Then, you know, June is the time for us to have blanket toss at the end of June -- third week of June.

By that time we're -- you know, all the whales are landed, but, you know, still we had no whales. So that’s the time late June is -- now is time to hunt other things like bearded seals.

It's the time where Barrow people like to hunt bearded seals.

So, you know, we hear people seeing bowhead whales during that late June.

So, you know, we were fortunate to -- even though it was late June we landed a whale June 26.

I remember, but, you know, that’s almost -- that’s late, but, you know, we’re going to get a whale anyway.

So we -- we landed a whale June 26th and it was a pretty big whale.

So all the smaller whales are passed by in April and May -- April maybe 15 to May 10 is -- that’s usually the time to catch smaller whales, but we had this unusual ice year and all the whales passed by on the further out.

So, you know, every year is different. You know, it's hard to predict what’s going to happen next.

But, you know, I could see a lot of slush ice right now and it's -- that slush ice is -- it's not too safe to be on anywhere where there's slush.

When it breaks up, it just disburses everywhere and there's nowhere to be safe on that kind of ice --

not even for a little fox maybe, but, you know, if you have to have a solid piece of ice where you can hold all your gear, your boats

and every year is a learning -- learning time for us to be prepared and what to do in a case of emergency you have to be -- know how to come back to safety.

So more and more each year we're learning what to do and how to go out there and what to bring and, you know, safety is always first for -- for many of us.

And we could learn that by observing the ice right now, you know.

And it's going to be learning all the way 'til January.

So we might get a big chunk of ice that might float in, you know, it could be a big piece of pan ice that's safe to be on so, you know, it’s -- it’s a positive thing. We always think positive.

So it's still early in the year and we have a few more months to, you know, ask our Creator to give us a safe place to be on.

So, you know, we're always optimistic about that, you know.

It’s always our perpetuity to keep it -- keep it positive.

To have a positive mind frame, you know, a hunter never gives up on just because it looks bad right now, but tomorrow it could be the best conditions.

So that’s what we always learn to, you know, be optimistic about things.

I don’t, you know, I was taught not to be negative, you know, if you have negative mind frame when you're hunting it's not good for yourself and it's probably not good for other people around you.

So, you know, when you -- when you try to be successful it’s -- it’s, you know, it’s based upon what kind of personality you have and what you share, and share your hunting space with other people is important.

You know, there's a lot of -- a lot of help if you're in a bad situation than other people are there for you, and you're there for them too most importantly.

But you know, the ice is our platform that we, as you know that gets us going.

I look for -- other people look forward for -- they look forward for a warm spring and summer. I look forward for winter, you know.

My favorite times of the years is coming around, you know. You know, I’m excited.

I hope to take some time off and go hunting on the ice as much as I can, you know, while I’m still -- still young.

You know, I hope to be hunting at least, you know, realistically at least 25 more years.

I can’t say forever, but, you know, you never know when it’s time to go. So, you know, I try to be optimistic and give a real time.

I have about that much more time that I could safely be out there on my own, you know.

Teach many young people much as I can and much as I have learned.

But, you know, that’s what I've learned about the ice is what I’ve said about between the late 70’s to the mid-90’s.

Those were my learning years. What I've learned a lot and what the ice has been doing.

KAREN BREWSTER: You said you learned about where to put a camp. BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And where to go whaling from. What are the things you look for that tells you that's a good spot?

BILLY ADAMS: We look for the ice thickness, the color of the ice, you know.

The more white it's the thicker it is.

You can generally see from the shore when there's open water, you know, there's -- we call it Qisu, there's the water sky. Then you could see the dark color, the curvature -- where the points are and then when you see that reflection on the ice --

the ice where it's growing more white on the shorefast ice that's telling you that it's probably a big multi-year ice right there.

And you try to go to that spot or where there's a point.

KAREN BREWSTER: Can you turn that phone off? Thank you.

BILLY ADAMS: But, you know, that -- that sometimes we're able to recognize those kind of things on a clear day so you could see where the point is.

When there's a big mass of ice where it's really safe it's -- I think you could put at least 10 or 15 crews there. That’s about half of Barrow.

But, you know, when you find a good piece of ice there, in a big point, and then, you know, that big mass is a good place to -- even though you could haul up a lot of whales on there and butcher them --

and, you know, the more people there the better it is, the safer it is -- the faster for you to get a whale on top of the ice.

But, you know, that’s what we look for is a good solid piece of pan ice that's at least six feet thick sometimes.

But it has to be like -- it could be anywhere from two to three hundred feet long and maybe just as wide that much, too.

That’s solid enough, but you have to have grounded ice too, you know, in that area where it's not going to float away.

Grounded ice is very important for us to look for and that grounded ice it can be in front of you and behind you and, you know, that’s what we look for is grounded ice that's going to be an anchor for you to be safe and you won’t float away.

So those are the important things that we look for in -- You know, when there's multi-year ice, there's bound to be fresh water for us to get a -- drinking water and washing dishes and good for cooking.

That’s a really clean -- almost the best drinking water you can have.

But when there's no fresh water ice, you know, we go to the lakes. That's what we have to use, but, you know, generally we try to find that multi-year ice where it look like sand dunes and it's light blue and rounded tops.

It's just beautiful. It’s -- sometimes you wish that you can have that all the time.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that multi-year ice grounded?

BILLY ADAMS: Some of it can be grounded. You know, if the mass is -- tells you if it's 10 feet high, you know, it could be another 40 feet down there below,

but, you know, the really big -- when you're in the deeper waters -- you have to know where the deep water is, you know. You have to know where the shallow water is also.

That’s where you can tell the grounded ice is at.

And, you know, it’s -- that grounded ice is made from the west wind with the pack ice colliding with the shorefast ice.

Then it builds and builds downward and it comes up.

So there's a lot of ways you can describe it, but that's how it's made. It's from the pack ice colliding with the shorefast ice.

It's building and it's always, you know, it’s -- you know it's never going to stop you know. It's going to be happening throughout the whole year, you know.

You know, during whaling time it'll really do the same thing. Make new areas and the ice is always changing. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

BILLY ADAMS: So you have to be prepared if you're going -- you're gonna probably have to move a few times to where, you know, during the whaling season.

Sometimes you don’t have to move, but, you know, you have to be like a personal decision for you to move if you want to go find a good spot or, you know, a good place to be camping on for the next two weeks.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: You mentioned that you learned to whale in the 70’s and 80’s and that there was a change in the ice conditions like around the mid-90’s, and also that you looked forward to teaching your own kids.

Will you teach your kids the same as you learned or do you have to add new knowledge due to some of these changing ice conditions?

BILLY ADAMS: Well it’s -- I think it's a mixture of both for what it's going to be like.

You know, every year is different, you know. I see things happen where you get the same kind of ice.

One year -- a couple years ago we had a very good ice almost resemble like the 80’s. So, you know, we're able to recognize things that you recognize before.

So, you know, because you know that the way I'm going to teach my kids is going to be the same what I learned, you know.

But they have to be more careful now and it's part of life, you know it’s -- you know, there was probably this thing -- this kind of thing probably happened thousands of years ago, you know. You have a period of warm time and then you have a period of cold time.

So, you know, I don’t think it’s this warm period of time. I think it happened before many, many years ago.

So we're going through part of it again and probably going to get colder some, you know, in the next few years. I mean we never know what’s going to happen.

But when you start to project things 50 years from now I think we can’t safely project into that far into the future.

To me that’s way too far. So I look at things in the next two to three years is my -- I don’t go beyond what I -- what’s intended, you know.

God created everybody different, you know. there's a lot of people that think that they can know through the computer and say well this is -- it's going to be like this in the next 100 years. What? What is that? So, you know that's, you know, I can’t look that far and I don’t have a -- one of those crystal balls, you know.

Maybe they have a crystal ball, but, you know, I don’t.

You know, I'm just normal man that's been up here all my life and learned through the elders.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you were saying looking for the pan ice and grounded ice for safe places, but it sounds like there's less of those grounded areas and big pans, so how do you put out a whaling camp now if those things aren't there?

BILLY ADAMS: Well, you know, if -- there's like I said before, you know, that pan ice might show up late in the season and, you know, we were able to find those nowadays.

KAREN BREWSTER: So last spring you still found a place?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, yeah, we still found a good place. So it just takes time for them to show up sometimes.

So, you know, it's -- there's a little bit less and less multi-year ice, but, you know, it’s -- you have to be going out there and look -- looking for it.

KAREN BREWSTER: You’re still finding grounded -- BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: -- anchors though?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. We’re still finding those kinds of ice, but, you know, it's -- I think it's closer in shore now than it used to be further offshore.

So that's the big difference right there.

And, you know, we would have those grounded ice -- big pans on shore right now, but it’s, you know, they're not here yet. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

BILLY ADAMS: But when we look at the currents, most of the ice -- those big ice is coming from the east so the freeze up starts from the east -- way to the east of us

and we see the current coming by every October, you know, the slush ice shows up and then we start to see pans of ice coming from the east.

When right now, you know, it’s November 12 and we're finally see the slush.

KAREN BREWSTER: And it's been big west winds?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, the west winds, you know, there's probably more open water from west winds, but, you know, you never know where the ice pack is most of the time it --

up north and, you know, it could be traveling in Russia and it could show up any moment, you know, we never know.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Besides the grounding was there any other notable differences with -- you say every season it's different, but what was particular about last year’s whaling conditions? I remember I came down --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, last year --

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: And you were south of town.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, we had this open water season from like December to March and then the wind shifted and the ice came in.

Then when it opened up, it opened up in two places. One a little bit near shore maybe two or three miles where we usually go whaling two or three miles out.

Then another lead system maybe eight miles off shore, and a big lead system that went all the way around to the Point .

KAREN BREWSTER: And so you couldn’t get to the outer one?

BILLY ADAMS: No, it was -- it was not safe because that -- it was always moving back and forth, but that further one out was always open and then all the whales -- there was bigger water out there.

KAREN BREWSTER: It's kind of they took a short cut.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, they took a short cut and, you know, and they -- they didn’t reach us.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, did a lot of crews go north?

BILLY ADAMS: There was a few crews north, but the ice up north is -- it's always shifting real close -- rubbing and sometimes you have to --

you can be out there for a few hours or you can be out there for a few days, but, you know, every hour is different up there.

It's really unpredictable ice moving really fast and you have to know what you’re doing, but it's possible, but you have to really know what you’re doing, and you can never go to sleep.

KAREN BREWSTER: But so as Oliver said you put your crew south?

BILLY ADAMS: We -- we went south. We went north. We went in between. We looked all over.

We looked all over for where we hopefully would see a whale, but only to find out there was a big lead way out there.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: So did you end up with a location for your camp or --

BILLY ADAMS: Well, we -- we ended our -- it started to melt already so much in late May so we -- we -- everybody kind of was forced to go home, you know.

It was time to move to hunt geese by that time, but, you know, it's the ice melt and there was a lot of water.

You know, the whole town was -- late May it's always melting.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Is that something that is common that you kind of look a lot of different places and then you kind of don’t find anything and you kind of pull back, is that or is that -- was that more --

BILLY ADAMS: Well, you know, it's a personal choice of your crew, but

usually when we go out we go out to the same area, but not last season, you know. There's no open water.

KAREN BREWSTER: So last year people kept moving around and looking?

BILLY ADAMS: Looking. There was a pond of water or looked like a lake you’d go to that pond -- everybody go to that, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. What did that mean for the trails that, you know, it's so much work to build trails?

BILLY ADAMS: It was sort of flat so it was real close and it was probably not a problem, but, you know, it was just a body of water that we were hoping to find a whale in.

Somebody almost got a whale in that body of water, but it just didn’t happen.

We were real hopeful that it, you know, it happen, but it got away.

KAREN BREWSTER: Was the ice safe to be on?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, it was very safe. It was thick -- thick ice where we were.

KAREN BREWSTER: Because I was thinking if there -- you said it was late freezing up and there was so much open water 'til March.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Is that enough time for the ice to get thick and safe?

BILLY ADAMS: Well, it opened up where we usually go out and there was a lot of good pans of ice there.

So, you know, that's where everybody thought where it would open up and stay open, but it closed.

We had west wind and it closed up there and opened up a little bit, and -- but we could see the big open lead way out there.

KAREN BREWSTER: So did you get any east wind?

BILLY ADAMS: Really late.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. And it wasn’t enough to --

BILLY ADAMS: And it wasn’t enough to blow it all open, so that was the main thing. If we had -- it would probably have to be 25 miles an hour.

You know, five miles an hour is not going to do it very much, but, you know, it always have to be a factor of the current too, you know.

The current can open up things even if there's a west wind.

So that current is powerful enough to do it, but it looked like we didn’t have much of a favorable current.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I'd say, did you check the current and what was it doing?

BILLY ADAMS: You know the current was pretty weak. It wasn’t, you know, some days it would bring in the favorable direction, but a lot of it was from coming from the south.

KAREN BREWSTER: And a south current --?

BILLY ADAMS: It closes up when it's south current.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: So last spring in the beginning of May the ice kind of broke off outside kind of right side -- outside of Barrow.


DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: And a few -- a couple of crews had to -- had to -- or older crews kind of was -- was pulling off the -- off the ice and a few kind of had to leap across the --

BILLY ADAMS: You know, it -- it cracked up really close. The cracks were coming straight to the shore because of the really strong current and really strong west winds.

That’s what makes it all, you know, and that water rises -- the water level rises and things get broken up, and warm wind, warm south wind weakens the ice.

So it's a combination of things that can go wrong -- went all wrong. So that’s what happened, you know.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: But what was interesting was that it seemed like it was only a couple of trails that was actually affected and a lot of people were south of town -- BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Was not, so -- BILLY ADAMS: They say --

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Were they there for a reason? Was that safe?

BILLY ADAMS: They already knew where those cracks were in the beginning.

So, you know, they avoided, but a few of them -- But, you know, everybody was safely back because, you know, they know how to look for good crossing. But that place, you know, everybody probably knew about it.

I knew about it. I mean, it doesn’t take a real genius, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well people make choices on risk, right?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, people make choices and, you know, it's -- we can’t -- we don’t regulate, you know, where people should go, where people can’t go or, you know, it's -- it's a free world.

KAREN BREWSTER: But so the people who were in that area, the ice started breaking up and they had to --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, they -- KAREN BREWSTER: Evacuate pretty quickly?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, they quickly came back, you know. And people were helping them when they weren't looking for open trails, you know, the easiest place to cross.

KAREN BREWSTER: So everybody made it back?


KAREN BREWSTER: But the camps and the trails north and south they weren’t affected, is that --

BILLY ADAMS: They weren’t very affected yeah, but, you know, there -- there was a crack here. People still had their camp right there and they were just watching that place open six to eight feet wide, you know.

It wasn’t very doing much everything right there, but right over there in that weak spot, and that's where all the action was.

KAREN BREWSTER: So this was out -- right out here in front of NARL that it was opening?

BILLY ADAMS: It was from NARL to probably they call it now "gravel pit."


BILLY ADAMS: We had our camp a little further south, but when we fear big west wind we always -- before it happens we try to -- well we're going come up soon as we feel a little bit of west wind we know why we were just taught to let’s go in, you know, and we won’t have to worry about things, you know.

That’s what I -- every crew is different. So, you know, our crew is soon as there's a south or a west wind pack up everything and get back on shore go take a shower.

KAREN BREWSTER: I know, you're part of Jake’s crew?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, Jacob’s crew.

KAREN BREWSTER: Ok. Oliver, do you have any more trail building questions?

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Directly related to trail building?

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, your question about, you know, when building trails and -- You said in the 70’s and 80’s you -- a lot of you would work on one trail.


KAREN BREWSTER: Do you guys still do that or -- BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you all make your own trails? BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, we still do that.

People still -- we still do that with other crews.

So, you know, we have a meeting before -- like in March.

Then we'll gather up everybody who wants to help and you just make an announcement that you're going try to go build a trail. It all works together for everybody.


DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Is that kind of like a social tradition or is it -- is it more a time saving effort?

Like now or at least last time the ice was getting smoother and it kind of wasn’t as necessary, but people still --

BILLY ADAMS: There's like families of, you know, cousins that kind of stuff -- childhood friends. Now the childhood friends are captains now.

So, you know, we have these communication thing, you know, it's still going on.

KAREN BREWSTER: Why do you join together to build a trail?

BILLY ADAMS: Well, it's pleasure to get along, you know, it’s fun, you know. We joke with each other and, you know, we share our food.

Who’s going to cook on what days, but, you know, you know, it's -- we learned how to hunt together, you know, all the time.


BILLY ADAMS: We know what to do when it's time to do things. Different things like, you know, we know when it's time to be quiet.

We know when it's time to head in. You know, we're always anticipating, you know, the fun that goes along with it, you know. It's always fun to be out there.

KAREN BREWSTER: You mentioned that when you were a boy learning that your Uncle Wesley and Kunuk, Jonathan, would walk the trail and mark it. BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you know what are they looking for that --

BILLY ADAMS: They're looking -- KAREN BREWSTER: Besides where the trail goes?

BILLY ADAMS: They're looking for where there's not too many cracks, you know, are visible. They're looking for large pans of ice where we could be traveling through and try to be in a straight trail and not to veer off too much.

So we're trying to make the shortest route as possible and the safest route and, you know, where the, we call Muġałłiq, we try to avoid that as much as possible, but you can’t always avoid those places.

You have to cross them at some point, but you have to know them all the time.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what is Muġałłiq? Is that the --

BILLY ADAMS: It's like slush ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

BILLY ADAMS: Not just in between two pans of ice. So, you know, it’s -- it's never safe to be on slush ice.


DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: So it's an increasing amount of information probably access like compared to your parents and their parents, like in terms of weather forecasts and there's even a ground radar that our sea ice group have, is that something you guys look at or -- that help you at all?

BILLY ADAMS: Once in a while we'll look at it, but, you know, I repeat the old fashioned ways.

But once you hear a forecast, it's well, probably a good time to be out on the ice. Then you hear the -- forecasters sometimes -- most of the time they tell the truth, but not all the time.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did you learn forecasting because, you know, Wesley and Kunuk they didn’t -- BILLY ADAMS: They -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- they didn’t have the National Weather Service or KBRW .

BILLY ADAMS: You know, they learned from natural things, you know. I learned from them what they passed on to me like

you look at the, you know, the -- they look at the skies and when there's open water and the skies are moving in one direction and the wind is going the other then they know that it's probably going to change direction.

Then when they see -- when there's open water when they see bad signs or you see a bunch of eider ducks going by, you know, flocks and flocks of ducks is a bad sign because, you know, usually the wind is going to change in the next few hours or the next day. And the ice is -- the pack ice is going to come back in.

Then, you know, when you see the water rising, you know, that's when it's not safe to be out there.

You see the current is going to change and the wind is going to shift and you have to be on the side where to get ready to go home and pack a few things earlier.

Then you know it's -- you're probably going to be heading in if those kind of things come around.

And, you know, when you see certain types of clouds when you're whaling, my uncle always taught me it's going to get really windy and the sundog always tells you that it's going to be cold and windy for the next week.

And it's probably going to get windier constantly for four or five days.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that cloud -- what does the cloud look like that it tells you that it's going to get windy?

BILLY ADAMS: Sometimes when you have open water and then there's a few round clouds that are prevalent and then you know, when you'll see the clouds stretching above and it's just getting thinner and thinner and the next few days it's going to be really windy.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Do you find that these signs that they are just as accurate and inform you -- BILLY ADAMS: Yes. DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Today as they were when you were a kid?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. There's still this, you know, still the same what I learned from, you know, if I was going to predict wind not to go -- it helped me not to go or to go, you know.

But, you know, now it’s, you know, we’re still use the same things, but now there's even more technology. You have satellites.

You could see a map of the ice and then, you know, it's useful though so you have to use the best of both worlds, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: How is that satellite map useful? What does it tell you?

BILLY ADAMS: Well, it tells you where some grounding ice can be. Tells you where the points are and which way you probably want to go the next time.

But, you know, it's also a tool that you can use off of to be safe and where it might break off or, you know, those are useful things.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: What if the satellite map could tell you the thickness of the ice or how rough it is or -- Is that something that would be useful or is it --

BILLY ADAMS: Sometimes it does, sometimes it don’t, you know. Usually we, you know, we say we're going to go there, but we never end up there sometimes.

You know, it all depends on the next week or so it's always different. The ice is always changing.

You have Iiguaq, we call it, "add on." Sometimes that Iiguaq gets on there and well, you know, maybe wait for a few days for it to get thicker.

Then we have to just bring the boat down and leave the tent up there or we have to go around it and stay on the solid ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when you decide to build a trail, how do you decide where to go? You pick your camp spot first and then --

BILLY ADAMS: No, you have to constantly be looking and traveling with the seal hunting, well, this looks like good solid ice. Hopefully, it won’t move away and you just use off of that trail and make it better. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

BILLY ADAMS: So, you know, every time you go out it's going to be different and then you'll see in the next week or so you go through this trail and

hopefully it'll be the same for a long time and you just stay there.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: So you prefer to -- what you're saying is you prefer to build your trail maybe a week at least before you actually put your camp there?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: You kind of go and check it out and -- BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. Uh-huh. DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Uh-huh.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, about -- about a week or two before, yeah, but you're always looking for -- under the trail sometimes.

KAREN BREWSTER: I was going to say does it happen that you spend that time building a trail and then you get out there and that place is no longer good for whaling and --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, then you -- KAREN BREWSTER: You have to start again?

BILLY ADAMS: -- go somewhere and then you start all over again. Go help somebody that's been making a trail -- that is making a trail at that time just go join with them.

Ask them if you can join and, you know, be there to help when there's things that need to be done.

So it’s, you know, it's always constantly changing. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

BILLY ADAMS: But we hope to be on that one trail for quite some time.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. If this ice thinning keeps happening, what is that going to mean for whaling do you think?

BILLY ADAMS: Well, whaling is not going to stop, you know.

We have to find ways to go out there, you know, whaling is always going to happen.

But, you know, we go out there hopefully it will be successful.

We have to go out there the same time the whales come around.

So, you know, whaling is never going to stop. It's just going to be a decision making thing of how we're going to do it.

It's are we gonna be going up north and camping out there or are we gonna be waiting on the ice or are we gonna use motorized boats.

Those decisions are going to be made when it's -- when the time comes. Communicating with other crews is always gonna happen.

So, you know, we have to prioritize things to, you know, we’re always going to have to make decisions when they come.


BILLY ADAMS: We hold meetings before we go out, but things change. Things are always changing.

KAREN BREWSTER: As somebody who doesn’t know very much about ice, it sounds very scary to me to be out there when these conditions are now so unstable and it seems unsafe to me, but to you guys it doesn’t.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, you just educating -- getting educated from knowledgeable hunters and whalers, you know, it's -- it's always that -- that choice that you make on your own, you know.

Like I said before, we’re not gonna -- we don’t tell people where to go or where not to go.

KAREN BREWSTER: But you don’t feel that it's unsafe at the --

BILLY ADAMS: Well, you know, it's your personal thing. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: You just have to know how to get out of it if you get into it. That’s the thing is, you know, but, you know, sometimes it's always that decision making is always up to your captain or your co-captain whoever -- whoever's the boss on the ice out there then your crew is going to make a decision and you have to follow through with those.

You can’t argue with the boss. But it's always -- every year is always learning.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. Do you have any more questions, Oliver?

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Yeah. I’m kind of curious how the like last season’s ice conditions were very smooth. I wonder if that -- that affects whaling in terms of there's less work going into building a trail. Is there more people -- would more people from the community maybe consider going out that year due to its, you know --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: It's not that far offshore and it's kind of easy out there or how does that kind of -- does it affect --

BILLY ADAMS: It's more open to everyone when it's smooth, because, you know, you could practically make a trail any which direction you wanted. There's more freedom when it's smoother.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: So in a way that's something you consider as a good thing? BILLY ADAMS: Uh-huh. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So more people -- more crews go out you think when it's smoother?

BILLY ADAMS: More crews go out and there's more help, and there's safety in numbers.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: And is it also in a way safer due to your retreat might be quicker too?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: It's not so far out.

BILLY ADAMS: You can be helping other crews. You know , say if you have this always a number of people on this crew always have -- knows when to go.

You just -- when somebody says they're going to get away from the lead because it's not safe.

So, when they make that -- that first crew makes that decision, then almost everybody else follows along.

So, you know, that's how I learned to, you know, there's always somebody that's going to be the first one -- Oh, they’re pulling out, we might as well pull out, too.

KAREN BREWSTER: It sounds like a game of chicken. Who's the first one?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, but, you know, it's always -- the guys -- it's, you know, they make the right decision almost all the -- all the time.

So when they -- when they're going to pull out we’re going to pull out, too.

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: In that sense on the safety aspect and helping each other, do you find that this -- these trail maps help a lot to know where people are in case something --

BILLY ADAMS: It helps, you know, for some of these things like the trail has a marker of this and that and when they land -- when they struck a whale and land, they know exactly where to go.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when people from town come out? BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: They know where to go.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, they know where to go. There'll be some kind of marker and there's always that big flag, too, you know, and everybody is --

they see somebody going there then everybody else go there and they know where to go, you know. If they end up in the wrong place, someone will tell them where to go.

KAREN BREWSTER: But, so having those printed out maps that the sea ice project has done, do people use those?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, a lot of people use them.

KAREN BREWSTER: To help to tell them where to go? BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: We’re out of tape here, so are we done?

DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: I’ve gotten answers to most of what I wondered about.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Thank you, Billy. BILLY ADAMS: All right.