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Winton Weyapuk, Jr., Interview 2

Winton "Utuktaaq" Weyapuk, Jr. was interviewed by Matthew Druckenmiller on May 8, 2008 in Wales, Alaska. In this interview, Winton talks about the effect of sea ice conditions on spring whaling, the effect of wind and current on ice conditions, thickness of the ice, and the effect of tides on the ice. He also talks about ice safety.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-24

Project: Sea Ice in Northern Alaska
Date of Interview: May 8, 2008
Narrator(s): Winton "Utuktaaq" Weyapuk, Jr.
Interviewer(s): Matthew Druckenmiller
Transcriber: Denali Whiting
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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Effect of sea ice conditions on spring whaling

Effect of wind on sea ice conditions

Ideal conditions for spring whaling

Ice thickness, and looking for an ideal spot to pull up a whale

Ice safety, ice weakness, and determining safety of an ice extension piece added on to the main ice

Ocean currents

Effect of tides and sea level on sea ice conditions

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: I have a number of questions on hunting and sea ice, and then a few on just safety and sea ice. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Okay.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So how has the -- the sea ice and the weather conditions this year impacted spring hunting?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Mm. They had quite an impact as far as bowhead hunting goes. ‘Cause, you just didn’t see any bowheads so far and just their blows a long ways out. It was a big wide lead.

And there was no leads during the -- their main migration and then once the lead opens going -- just got too big on this side. And then not too many.

So that -- that was a -- a really major thing this year. Not being able to -- or not seeing any bowheads and not being able to, you know, hunt them.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So was it a quick change in winds that did that where you had a closed lead. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And then a really large lead?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, yeah. Kind of like a quick change in conditions and --

I don’t know, maybe there -- there was a -- oh, and change in the current, too, maybe.

You know, the strong southerly current just pushing the ice north and at the same time the wind pushing it out of the north -- the north.

That’s usually -- the wind driven current pushes the pack ice close and keeps the leads fairly narrow, you know. Which is pretty ideal conditions for hunting bowheads here.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And -- has this same thing that you described this year with -- with the lead being closed during the main migration and open rapidly, is that something that’s happened in previous years?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, it’s happened before. Not very often, but, you know, in some years it’s -- lead has remained closed all during the whaling -- or most of the whaling season.

We’ve watched bowheads traveling through this closed lead or -- or pack ice coming up through little ponds in the pack ice. Or hearing them blow inside the ice.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And here in Wales, do you always hunt the bowheads from -- while you’re boating or do you actually sit at the lead and wait and launch off the -- off the shore ice?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, we do a combination of that -- those things. Sometimes we sit and wait at the boat launch or move somewhere else to find a good spot to land and wait.

Sometimes we go out to the pack ice and find a spot to land there and wait there in the pack ice. And when there’s too much new ice, you know, sometimes we just stop our boat near new ice and -- and wait out to the lead.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: I don’t know if this is correct, but what I thought I understood is that usually the -- the lead narrows this time of year as you go north.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, depending on the wind condition, you know. If there's a lot of northeasterly wind and it pushes the ice out off -- off in the shore ice.

A long, long ways up that way, maybe thirty, forty miles or more. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: When there’s northerly -- southerly wind or northwesterly, then it pushes it closer to the shore ice and it narrows it there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Maybe seven, eight, ten miles up.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And will -- will you -- will you go up that far to hunt bowheads?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, yeah. Yup. Yeah, we do if -- if we need to. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: But it’s a lot harder. Like if we get -- get a bowhead in those conditions what -- right now with the southerly current, we’d have to tow the whale on, you know, longer distance against the current there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: It takes longer, uses up a lot more gas.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So now what -- what -- what are the ideal conditions for spring whaling that would make for a successful hunt?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Having the pack ice close with the corner not too far. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Maybe north -- north wind. Not too strong. Fifteen to twenty (mph), maybe. Open all the way to the Tin City side.

Not too much new ice or not very thick new ice, you know. And, you know, and if there’s leads into the pack ice, no -- the current not being too strong that it closes the, you know, paths into the leads or ponds.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So the ponds are connected?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah. Sometimes the pack ice kind of stretches, you know, when it gets here, maybe it’s a little windy here and it gets, you know, it thins out. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Out that way.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: To the south. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: And we can’t get to the other side and hunt there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: And sometimes the whales kinda gather or stop and rest near Tin City, you know.

Like last year, we saw a lot of them there that -- that were just kinda stopped there and rest. And then they’d continue north.

There’d be the lead on this side and then another lead on the other side of the pack ice and they’d go to the other side and contin -- continue their migration.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So when you -- will you travel from this immediate lead through the pack ice to a next lead? WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: You will? WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, sometimes.

Sometimes there’s a lot of pack ice and there’s no -- no -- that lead might be several miles out and hard to get to.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So the ideal conditions in a sense the -- it funnels the -- the whales just up -- up north of town?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Here -- near Tin City or right -- right out here. Sometimes they don’t use the lead on up to the shore ice, no, they use the lead on the other side of the pack ice.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. Yeah. So then when -- when you’re deciding to -- to go out whaling what -- what conditions -- or at least out in the -- in the Beaufort, belugas or whales, what conditions are perfect for -- in terms of the winds and the currents?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: North, mainly northerly winds. Current not too strong, maybe one knot or less. Some pack ice there that, you know, that we can hunt off from or hunt in.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Now what -- what is -- how -- how thick does the ice have to be to pull up a -- an average size bowhead? I guess you can butcher on the water, too, but in order to haul it up onto the ice? WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Mm-hm.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: How -- how thick of ice do you look for?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Normally, at least three feet. Three or four or five feet. Good flat pan. Not too high off the water so there’s no -- the ramp can be kind of gradual. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: So it can be easiest to slide the whale up.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Is it like similar to your -- your boat launch? WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Would -- would that be a place where you’d -- you could look for a whale?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, yeah. That would be a pretty good spot. Not very safe ‘cause, you know, further back from there to a ridge, you know, it’s kinda wet.

Where the ice is not too thick and early, and you know -- kinda like that, it’s white and solid. So it’s real safe. No danger of it breaking off. Drifting away.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And I just had a few -- few questions on safety. When -- when -- when you’re looking at -- at the shore ice, like yesterday when we were out there, and I was dragging that equipment towards the coast, the -- the second time when we were a little bit further north. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Mm-hm.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: That first ridge that I came to that was pretty high where I actually -- I took the piece of the equipment, the sled, and I lifted it up on top of the ridge. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Mm-hm.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: When I was standing there, I -- I could hear creaking. The -- the -- the ice creaking like a door hinge. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Hm.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And it was -- what -- I think it was -- I could see a crack at the base of that ridge and it was -- WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Mm-hm. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: -- just creaking as -- as the water went up and down. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Mm-hm.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And I -- is -- is that an indication that it’s pretty weak there? Or is that -- WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: -- is that normal?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, it -- Yeah, it’s an indication of the -- yeah -- weakening there and the movement. The movement of the ice, which will gradually separate from the -- that sort of ice.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So when -- when you’re traveling out on -- on the shore ice and -- and you -- and you are on an extension, how do you access the safety of that extension to know whether it’s safe or not to travel on?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Making sure it’s firmly attached to the shorefast ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Thick enough to walk on or drive over. Basically, it’s -- Usually, we don’t go out on ice without a boat. You know, onto the edge of the ice without a boat.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. But if it was ice that was -- that was thick enough, if it was three or four feet thick, but it was still clearly an extension and that -- and there was no grounded ridges on that extension -- WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Mm-hm.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: -- what -- would it be the winds and the currents that -- that would cause that to break out?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, mainly the swells from an open lead. That’s -- the two or three, four foot swells will start the ice moving. Break up the lead.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And then yesterday, also, when we were out at the -- out at your boat launch, it looked as though the current was coming from underneath the ice outward. Like away from town. Was that what was happening?

I mean, it looked like -- like this is the shore ice, and it looks like -- and it encounters here that the current was coming out. I don’t know if I just -- if it appeared that way to me or if it’s actually --

I thought I remembered seeing this whole thing last year when I was up here with Davis (Ongtowasruk) in May. Does that happen or -- ?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Well, not really. Usually, the current is keeping the ice flowing along the edge. Unless there’s a ridge here that’s stop -- stops the current.

You know, it kind of acts like a barrier underwater. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: And then the -- went by the eddy, maybe under the ice it gets caught and pieces of ice seem to drift away. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: From the edge. As if the current was -- there was going in a different direction.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm. But it’s just kind of being guided by a ridge? WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Okay, that makes sense.

And then so when -- when you’re -- when you’re boating out amongst the floes, is it mainly just the strength of the current that -- that -- that you’re looking at?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah. Plus the wind. Try to, you know -- there's a lot of time we try and gauge how fast the current is when we’re sitting on the pack ice.

And whether the current and the wind are kinda acting together to bunch the ice up close -- closed up.

When there’s not too much wind or when there’s no wind, even though they (inaudible) the ice just kind of separates itself. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Scattered ice.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: But is -- Do you worry about the -- with -- with the -- with the -- a westerly wind rise in the sea level, did that destabilize to break up the landfast ice there? WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Yeah, yeah. There’s -- especially if there’s swells.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Did you ever see it break the ice out all the way back to the beach when that happens?

Do you have any -- do you have any huge changes in -- in sea level? I know in Barrow this past year, there -- there was a change in sea level by about four feet one day.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: That’s not really from the west. Usually, it's happens when there’s a wind from the south, southwest. That -- that seems to rise the sea -- sea level more here than -- more than the westerly winds.

That’s almost always, that’s -- yeah, I don’t -- I don’t think I’ve ever seen the water rise from westerly winds. Usually, from south, south westerly winds.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: South. Is there a name for -- for when rising sea level breaks the ice? Is that in the dictionary?

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: I don’t know if there’s a specific word, but I know there’s tuwaiq. I don’t know, I could ask Faye (Ongtowasruk) and Pete (Sereadlook). They’d probably just use the generic word tuwaiq. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Mm-hm.

WINTON WEYAPUK, JR.: Ice breaks off.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. I think that -- I think that was all the questions I wanted to ask.