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Luther Komonaseak, Interview 2
Luther Komonaseak

Luther Komonaseak was interviewed on January 24, 2018 by Karen Brewster in Anchorage, Alaska. Originally from Wales, Alaska, and only recently having moved to Wasilla, Alaska, Luther talks about his experiences as a whaling captain and hunting on the sea ice around Wales. He talks about the re-introduction of whaling to his community, different ice conditions and ice types, the effect of wind and current, selecting a good spot to go whaling from, and the importance of paying attention and observing both the ice and the weather. He also discusses changes he has observed in the ice conditions and his thoughts about the future of the sea ice environment and of whaling. Finally, he expresses how much he wants the young generation to continue their hunting and whaling traditions and how critical it is to ask questions and pay attention to your elders in order to learn.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-44

Project: Sea Ice in Northern Alaska
Date of Interview: Jan 24, 2018
Narrator(s): Luther Komonaseak
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Sue Beck
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
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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Personal and family background

First learning about hunting on the sea ice and predicting weather

Effect of wind on ice conditions

Reintroduction of whaling in Wales

Relearning whaling traditions, including how to divide the whale, and use of skinboats

First time went out whaling, and learning about the ice, the weather, whaling equipment and pulling up a whale

Selecting and preparing the boat launch area at the ice edge

Effect of current and wind on ice conditions, and ice thickness and safety

Bering Strait frozen all the way across causing migration problems for whales and effect on whaling

Beluga whales being trapped in the ice

Pressure ridges

Changing ice thickness, and jigging for fish

First whale harvested as a whaling captain, and listening to whales with a paddle in the ocean

Watching the current to ensure ice safety, and strategies for walking on thin ice

Learning about whaling and importance of listening and observing

Selecting a good place on the ice to hunt whales

Shearing ice

Ice chunks popping out from underneath the edge of the shorefast ice

Passing on knowledge to the younger generation, and building an ice ramp for pulling up a whale

Tough time pulling up a whale when the ice is thick

Multi-year ice

Drifting on the ice, and presence of ice cracks

Effect of tide

Use of color to identify safe or dangerous ice conditions

Pressure ridges, and holes forming in the ice

Importance of understanding ice and wind conditions, and making observations

Future of whaling at Wales

Taking advantage of good conditions to hunt

Changing in timing of freeze-up and break-up, and spending time at Diomede Island as a boy

Changes in ice conditions and the weather, and importance of observation and proper preparations

Learning about whaling, and always being prepared and taking care of your equipment

Relevance of traditional knowledge to current conditions

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


KAREN BREWSTER: And today is January 24th, 2018 and this is Karen Brewster and I’m here with Luther Komonaseak from Wales, Alaska.

And we’re doing this interview together here in Anchorage for the Sea Ice Project Jukebox. Luther, thank you for meeting with me today.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes, I sure appreciate you comin’. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And I am very excited. I’m excited and also will pass the word along to the younger generation and who -- who wants to know about what kind of changes between then and now.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Well, to just get us started. Can you tell me when you were born and where? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I was born in 1954 in Nome. About three years later, we moved to Wales. Or the family moved to Wales.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. And so what was your growing up like? What was Wales like? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Well, it was -- when I first moved there I was, you know, didn’t know about it.

But slowly because of my mother’s grandpar -- my mother’s mom and dad were -- lived there most their life, and --

KAREN BREWSTER: So who were your parents? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: My parents is Maggie Komonaseak, Silas Komonaseak.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. And so your mother was from Wales originally? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what about your father? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: He was from Nome, but originally his parents was from Nuauk(?)(could be Naukan which is a former Native settlement near Uelen that is now abandoned), which is the native name for -- it was a village south of Uelen, and his dad came across before, I guess, the so-called Iron Curtain came down.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, so they were from the Russian side? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes, that’s where the name originated -- our last name originated from. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, neat!

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I always say that because that’s what I was taught.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Yeah. And then you have brothers and sisters? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes, I have three brothers and four sisters.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, big family. Your mom was busy raising you all up. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Set of twins.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when did you first start going out hunting? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I was -- I started out hunting -- my dad used to always tell me to go ask my grandpa, Winton Weyapuk, Sr., if I could follow. So that’s where I began.

My father did -- didn’t have a boat and motor so I hunted with various crews in Wales. Maybe three or four different crews.

Until I got my own boat in 1987. That’s when I really started enjoying, 'cause I became, you know, a captain and responsibility was all on the captain.

So all those responsibilities that I gained, you know, you have to have very good knowledge of what happens: current, weather, ice conditions.

And then the knowledge that was given down to me with how people used to try to recognize the weather, not by the radio but by visual.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. Do you have an example? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. One example -- one example was when there’s a little tiny -- there’s islands between Wales and Russia: Little Diomede, Big Diomede, and Fairway Rock.

When a little piece of cloud goes above Fairway Rock and then goes away real quick, that means that there’s a storm coming?

And we kind of timed it to about you got ‘bout six hours to head home.

And I sure learned my lesson one time. We were out in Fairway Rock trying to head back. I told the crew, if you want to go Diomede --when would be a safe haven there. But they said let’s try to go home.

Well, I told them to load the boat so we can have a -- you know, good buoyance -- I mean, you know, good control of the boat. But, yeah, we did get caught in twenty-something-foot waves. We made it though. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And so that was one example.

KAREN BREWSTER: Twenty-seven foot waves? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, twenty-foot waves.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Now that was in an umiaq? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: A little tiny Lund boat. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But I had two motors. So I had one going full and the other one I used for, you know, to either speed up or slow down.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. And how far did you have to travel? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, four -- I think it was like sixteen miles.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. That’s a long way. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, fourteen miles, sixteen miles.


So when you were a young boy going out with your grandfather, did you go out seal hunting, too? Or he’s the one who took you out whaling?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No, I -- he took me out seal hunting. He -- I was very, you know, worried about the weather ‘cause Wales weather was alw --

There’s several other factors to understand weather. It’s either Fairway Rock or Wales Mountain as indicators.

And the east winds that terrible-ist wind that you can encounter, and that’s where that cloud comes from.


LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And that’s what -- what we got caught on. The east wind.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. And what happens if there’s an east wind when there’s ice? When you’re out whaling?

'Cause that was when it was open water that time? With the twenty-foot waves? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Yeah, it was twenty-foot waves. I mean, open water. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: There’s no -- not much ice. Good thing.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So what if you’re out at whale camp out on the ice and you get an east wind? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We basically pack up and go home.

‘Cause we normally -- we normally are out there with northeast winds, favorable wind. It’s offshore wind and a lot much calmer.

KAREN BREWSTER: So what does the ice do if the east wind starts coming up? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It blows straight out. Out to -- I guess, apparently towards Russia.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, so it pushes the ice out? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. And there’ll be no -- no ice out there.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you don’t want to be on that ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No. I mean, you don’t want to be out there east wind, period. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But northeast wind, it’s a lot different. Calmer. Calmer winds.

And the same thing with northwest. You don’t want to be out there with northwest winds either.

KAREN BREWSTER: Northwest is bad, too? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: What does that do? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That brings in the ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It comes back in. And then it covers -- I mean, it closes the ocean.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. And then when that ice comes back in, is it dangerous to be at the edge? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, yes. Sometimes it is.

That’s the reason why I learned that you must move your boat far away. I mean a good ways away from the shore -- I mean the ice edge, in the case that the ice may be piling up creating pressure ridges. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It'll do that on east wind, but mainly northwest.

KAREN BREWSTER: Northwest does that? So how far in is safe? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, about two hundred yards, three hundred yards.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, that’s all? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Past the pressure ridges. You must go past the pressure ridges.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So basically going inland from the pressure ridges? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And all communities are different. And so Wales is one of the toughest places to hunt, I guess, but you really gotta know what you’re doin’ and that’s what I did.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And I lived in Barrow and I know -- or in Utqiaġvik, and I know how they do things, but I don’t know how you guys do it in Wales, so it’s interesting for you to talk about that.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, when I first started to learn how to go whaling, we were using umiaqs.

The guy that -- had this teacher. He was there for four years before I went to high school -- '70s.

He built some skinboats. We used to help him build skinboats. He was so much for it. And he went whaling. He got a whale in 1970.


LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. I was a newspaper writer. I mean, we were writing with Xerox machine and a teacher aid and students write stories.

And he had got knowledge from Gambell and some other various places and how -- really studied whaling. He’d be teaching, next thing you know he’d be studying on his desk and I always notice -- I got all his homework by the way.

And he’d write on anything about whaling. He’d write letters and --

KAREN BREWSTER: So he was a tanik (white person)? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. From Utah.

And he bought his equipment from the Native store, apparently. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And I still got those receipts. It was a big difference of the price back then.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do -- do you remember what they -- ? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah! Two hundred and seventy-five dollars for the darting gun. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Versus what it is now. Over $800, I guess.

But he would -- he was in the National Guard, too, but he would test his bombs. He did a lot of, you know, study.

I mean, experiments of -- of the bomb. It wasn't a penetrating bomb at the time with black -- black -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Black powder. But he got the knowledge from the local elders in Wales. Like there’s a elder from Diomede and then rest he got --

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you feel comfortable telling me the name of that teacher? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, yes. Mr. Charles Christensen.

KAREN BREWSTER: And the elders in Wales were happy to share with a non-Native? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yes. Because the whaling was not continued after the epidemic? You know, for over -- they said over sixty years.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, the 1918 flu epidemic? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You know, a lot of people died off and a lot of knowledge with the ways, so -- and then they got fewer and fewer and --

But there is some elders that had a little bit of knowledge. They just, I guess, didn’t go out because they really didn’t know much.

But when I start or when they go -- Roy Okpealuk from Little Diomede, which, I was in his crew, and then Andrew Seetook, a elder from Wales, he was always successful sometimes, most the time.

But there -- and then my father-in-law, Toby Anungazuk, was the other crew with umiaqs. There was three.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. And that was in what time period? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That was in -- oh, that would have to be after high school.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that was in the '70s you were saying? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. '70s, late '70s.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So between 1918 and these three guys in the '70s there was no whaling? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No whale. No. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The reason I’m saying that is because when I -- excuse me -- hard to divide the whale. Things like that. Traditional things that you do.

I had to go asked my grandpa, and he didn’t quite remember. But he came down to the ice fortunately. I was very happy of that.

And he kind of described to me of how -- what parts go to whom and -- and what parts go to boats that help.

And then what parts of the whale is divided to go to the captain himself. And then the crew -- the successful crew, you know, divides a different portion of the whale.

The tail goes to the captain, which is divided, too, for special celebrations. Like they say, Nalukataq - blanket toss.

But Wales was a very famous whaling community, during the commercial whaling time. It started there, and as the whales depleted they kept going further north.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Was that because of it was near Point -- Port Clarence? Is that near there? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Where the whalers would come in and take refuge? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, to -- for -- Yes. Going back south with their baleen and whale oil, apparently.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So you said Winton Weyapuk, Sr., was your grandfather? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: So that’s your mother’s father? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: My mother’s dad.

KAREN BREWSTER: And when did he start whaling again? 'Cause you said you went out with him. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Who? Winton Senior? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No, he just came down to show me how to divide the whale. He -- he'd -- his -- Arthur Nagozruk after that, but they make -- he was a great whaler. He had -- still teach, too -- BIA teacher, by the way.

And ma -- my mother was at their house four days to go school there in his place. Up to a certain grade.

But he had whaling equipment in his shed. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, LUTHER KOMONASEAK: So, apparently -- He had a huge skinboat.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. Yeah, one of those old, really big like -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Huge! I mean, you know, with a sail. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The -- the -- there's -- the diameter of the sail was about ten inches. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Around -- for the mast, you mean? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Huh!

Yeah, those old umiaqs, some of them were like what? Like, thirty feet or something? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, this one was huge. Like thirty-six foot. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Maybe eight walrus skins.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. Well, they used them to go from Diomede back and forth maybe? Open water? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Occasional -- occasionally, I guess. But --

KAREN BREWSTER: I’m thinking that’s why you need a big boat. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

You know our community used -- there’s a lot of whale bones along the -- I mean, on the mountain where people passed away and they --

Of course, back then, you know, on -- on -- on top the ground. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Up on -- With their belongings and their possessions.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm. So the first whaling captain you went out with who taught you was who? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Roy Okpealuk.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. But you had been out on the ice seal hunting with your grandpa? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Prior to that. Yeah. With my grandpa and various other crews.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. And were you using a kayak when you were seal hunting? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No. Oh, a homemade wooden plywood boat. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. So you would go --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The -- the umiaqs were not quite being built yet. But Mr. Christensen got it back, and so the elder ladies, like my grandmother and some other elderly ladies, still knew how to sew the -- sew the skinboat and split the hide.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right. With walrus, you have to split it. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Female skin sewing.

And, you know, so it had to be a certain type of, you know, skins.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. Yeah. So, what were some of the things you were taught about how to be safe out on the ice? You were talking about the weather and reading the weather. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. That came with all the crewmembers that I’ve been -- always listening.

Not much questioning, but listening and observing. A lot of observation. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I know what is a very serious business, like I was told.

I went to Barrow quite a few times attending AEWC (Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission) meetings. But they always talked to me about that.

And I talked to elders up there like, for instance, Thomas Brower, and had relatives up there. And some from St. Lawrence Island.

They gave me some tips of your equipment and how -- what to do or use.

Like for instance, on the harpoon, it swivels. There’s a hole that goes all the way through, and that little tiny hole is meant for a piece of wood. A matchstick, for instance? Put in there.

But that gets soggy when it's -- well, it’s rough 'cause Wales is -- you know.

And Mr. George Ahmaogak in Barrow told me to use electric tape. Once, twice.

And the one from Gambell told me not to put the harpoon straight up and down. Put it sideways, because the whale is long this way.

And the harp -- if you put it up, straight up and down the whale is round, so it might either slip off up or slip down.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. So, what’s the piece of wood in there for? To keep the -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: To keep the harpoon straight.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, when it goes in? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. It swivels, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: So when the harp -- the piece of stick gets soggy, it might -- when it hit, it'll just hit sideways and it won’t go -- KAREN BREWSTER: It won’t stay in? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, it won’t -- so it won’t -- yeah, go in. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: To the -- and -- and keep the float on.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. So, what do you look for when you start to go out on the ice to go out whaling? To decide if it’s safe enough to go out? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Of course, the launch area must be prepared. Low -- low area a little north of Wales. Not very far.

We’re very close to the ocean. I watch the whales go by every spring from my house. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I told -- I call -- they always call me up back then: “You see any open water? You see whales?” Of course! You know, I’m up on a mountain. And they’re going by at and I’m going out, so --

When I first started my crew, my uncle Winton Weyapuk, Jr., we’d go out there at 5:30 in the morning to prepare the launch. And, you know, and -- and carve up the ice for launch if it needs to be done.

And, you know, make some coffee and make a windbreak and start observing.

KAREN BREWSTER: So everybody goes to the same launch place or you have separate camps like they do in Barrow? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No. Pretty much the same, you know.

We don’t camp out there, but same area.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, you don’t camp out there? Okay. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No, ‘cause it still gets dark at night. So we’re there as most of the daybreak.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So when do you first go out? Like April? Or you -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: My dad used to tell me when they got their whale with that Mister Christensen, they were going out in March. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, oh.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Or late March. You know, things change between that time and when I was --

KAREN BREWSTER: So when you are doing it, what -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, we were going out like first of April. And second of April, but, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So because of the way Wales is and the ocean and everything, you have a fairly narrow shelf of ice that you can be on? You know, like Barrow, you get that big area. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yeah. No. It’s only about a quarter-mile out. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. Okay. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Very close.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Okay. So you only have to -- You don’t have to travel as far over all that ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No. No.

KAREN BREWSTER: And has it always been that wide or does it -- Has it -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: A long time ago was it wider? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Pretty much.

There’s like the first-year ice edge, and then as the year go by, right -- right between the first ice edge and then whaling time, there’ll be another extension.

So you can tell -- I could tell and the other crews could tell the extension of the ice.

It might be another five hundred feet. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Somethin’ like that.

KAREN BREWSTER: But you don’t get miles and miles? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, no, not miles. No.

KAREN BREWSTER: Because as you said, it’s so dynamic there. The wind and the current. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, and my dad he’d always go seal hunting in February, January, and that’s what we grew up on.

And the current at those times is much slower. And pretty much, you know, maybe three knots -- either moving north very slowly.

And then when whaling comes -- whaling time comes, the current picks up to maybe nine knots to eleven knots, where it’s going by like this. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And then it’s gonna go either north or back to -- or south from the north, from the northwest winds.

KAREN BREWSTER: So does the wind change the current or they go separately? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. Separately, I guess.

Like if the ice -- north wind, the current is going north. And I guess --

I think if I’m right, when it turns northwest, it goes back south.

‘Cause of the direction of the wind. So that -- yeah, the current -- uh, the wind pretty much drives the current.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. I wanted to ask about that ice extension before we keep going with wind and current. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Okay.

KAREN BREWSTER: That part that gets added on. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Mm-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that thick enough and safe enough to be out on? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It is at -- at times, yeah. It maybe two, three -- two -- two feet, a little above two feet. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Back then, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Back then, yeah. So when you first started in the '70s, that extension was two to three feet thick? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: What about now? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Well, no more than three feet. There’s -- Now, there’s hardly any extensions and the ice comes in very, very late in the year.

In that one year, it started in February. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We had open water in January. All the way to -- pretty much all the way to the beach.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow! Open water to the beach in February? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow! So what does that mean for whaling? That -- that -- that year when it was like -- do you remember what year that was?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: What year was that? I think it was in the late '90s. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: When the weather really start changing. ‘Cause me and my uncle was observing. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And by the time, that one year, ice finally came around, the shore -- main shore ice was very thin. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And we did some -- we used to do some measurements. My uncle did with UAF. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, for Hajo (Eicken)?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, it was checking how thick ice. Drilling the ice is. Measuring it. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And then also, we went out there and put a -- some instrument. GPS, I guess, for current or see how the ice will move north.

So he -- he was given that instrument, so we put it on the big ice cake and set it in the middle, and the person wanted to know where it was drifting. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And they tracked -- kept track of it all the way to past Barrow, I do believe. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Very interesting. KAREN BREWSTER: Pretty cool. Yeah.

Do you remember was that Hajo Eicken you did that for? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I -- I can’t -- KAREN BREWSTER: Because I know you know Hajo, yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So that -- that -- that year, the late '90s, when that froze is -- didn’t freeze up shorefast until February. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes.


KAREN BREWSTER: Could you go out on that ice in April for whaling? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But the ice thickness very different.

And there’s -- if I may, two occasions, one in 1987, I do believe. It’s basically when I started my whaling crew.

When it -- ‘Round that time, the ice had frozen from Wales to Russia. And the whales would try to migrate north and they would return back to the open water.

And all the whales that we observed tryin’ to go north, all of ‘em returned back to -- to the open water. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Below Wales. And so there was whales coming up.

Even right there where we were -- you know, we were out on the ice, not on the -- on the shore ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But we were out in floating ice -- or open -- not ice, the extension. On the -- like a open water, like a big cove? KAREN BREWSTER:Yeah, like --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: So we were on that -- on the outside edge. And there -- belugas were tryin’ to go there. They were -- we -- come up so close, two or three feet from us. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And what -- the bowhead whales coming out, returning back to open water would come up anywhere. I mean -- KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. So you had --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Great big whales, too. Mothers and, you know, great fifty-footers. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And they were traveling a bunch at a time. We went -- on one occasion we went out very early in the morning when that ice was frozen all the way across? KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: There was maybe fourteen or so waiting there, and they come up like -- you know, the head up. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Or they’d be just floating on top of the water.

And the other occasion, me and my uncle Winton Weyapuk, Jr., went out there and we just sat there and watched, and so amazed that these whales were just laying on top of the water and sleeping or resting or -- they couldn’t go anywhere.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, they were sort of trapped. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Because of that ice block.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Did you notice, was there a lot -- did any of those whales die on their own? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No, I haven’t observed that.

KAREN BREWSTER: You didn’t observe that? Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But we noticed that the young -- younger bowhead whales liked to jump out of the water. You know, breach. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We watched one one time for hour and forty-five minutes. Went all the way -- way out there -- Fairway Rock, jumpin’.

Keep doing hour and forty-five minutes. Then he came close to us jumping, then way back out.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow! Well, just like kids. They’re playing, right? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Or puppies. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: They’re playing, having fun. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Enjoying theirself.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that -- was that then a good year for whaling? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes, it was. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, it was a good year.

There’s -- like I said, the Seetook crew was -- they usually boat north and wait up there or st -- whereas maybe our crew would stay at the launch.

But I observe whaling migration. I went so much that, you know, sometime I had -- I went -- I ex -- not experiment, but I went toward Tin City side. KAREN BREWSTER Hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And they’re comin’ very close to -- they’re like in the direction of St. Lawrence Island/King Island area.

They’d hit Tin City or a little bit south of Tin City, hit the shore ice, and the ice sort of -- and then follow the ice from Tin City side heading north from Wales.

KAREN BREWSTER: So whaling down by Tin City, you were catching them 'cause they were all grouped up there? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. ‘Cause there was nothing at the launch at home, so they would hit Tin City and then they would head out. A little bit out, and that’s why there was nothing at home.

KAREN BREWSTER: They were getting diverted? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Oh, interesting.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Another thing I wanted to mention. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm LUTHER KOMONASEAK: About belugas. One year, the ice trap.

A airline pilot had observed between Shishmaref and Wales that there’s belugas had nowhere to go. And so we were contacted that -- told about that. And we went to that direction -- to between Wales and Shishmaref.

Eighty miles away is Shishmaref, but we went about forty miles and then about a good half an hour straight out from the land edge.

And very flat ice for a long ways. And here we came to it finally. ‘Cause, of course, there was a lot of snowmachine trail. Very nice out there. T-shirt weather.

There was two holes and they were taking turns. All way down there you could see ‘em. Just two breathing holes. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow!

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That’s how much the ice was blocked in.

KAREN BREWSTER: How many belugas you think there were? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: There was over a hundred, 'cause Shishmaref people were getting them.

We just observed and got what we could to bring back home, you know. Our -- my grandparents always say, get what you need and that -- you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. But Wales has a tradition of beluga hunting? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Not really.

KAREN BREWSTER: No? They didn’t used to go by there? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: They do go all the time. They travel with the bowheads. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And yeah. They preferred bowheads. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But, yeah, they -- for like to feed the crews or to feed the family members while -- you know, while they’re tryin’ to wait to get a bowhead.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was wondering about those years in between, after 1918 when they stopped whaling? Were they still taking belugas? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, no. KAREN BREWSTER: No? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No.

KAREN BREWSTER: Just -- just seals then, huh? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Seals, ugruks (bearded seals), and walrus. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it probably took a while for the population to come back, too? The people. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yeah. Well, and, of course, the whales.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Yeah, after commercial whaling. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So you talk about going out that add-on. So I’m assuming at Wales, the shorefast ice that you start on is grounded or -- I mean it’s attached to the shore, but -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. It’s the pressure ridges keeps intact, too, 'cause we get humongous pressure ridges.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. You still get big pressure ridges? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. Well, later in the year now. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Prior to November -- December it usually it used to start.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, really? So you used to -- Yeah, you used to get big pressure ridges in November, December? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Mm-hm.

KAREN BREWSTER: And now they don’t come 'til? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Late -- in the following year.


KAREN BREWSTER: So that’s interesting. You still get them, they just come, later? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Whereas some places, they don’t get them anymore. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, and then most of those caused by strong south winds. KAREN BREWSTER: The pressure ridges are?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. And the current. Yeah. South winds is the one that causes a lotta pressure ridges.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what about the current? What is the current doing? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It’s going faster.

I mean, you can see great big icebergs. I mean ice bigger than this building. Way up there. KAREN BREWSTER: Still?


KAREN BREWSTER: No, back then. Yeah.

That was like forty feet tall, something like that? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But you don’t get them that big anymore? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No.

KAREN BREWSTER: No. And do you know -- why do you think that is? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, we could see the changes comin’. I did anyway. I was told.

I was told when I go meeting up in Barrow that these things are happening. You’re gonna have global warming and there’ll be hardly any ice anymore.

But, you know, you’re young and they just kinda ignore me. No. But it came. See? KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Now it’s really happening. KAREN BREWSTER: Now -- Yeah.

Do you remember when you started seeing the -- the changes? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. It was in late '80s.

KAREN BREWSTER: And -- and -- what -- what did you notice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That the shorefast ice is getting thinner.

You know, they go floundering and tom-codding in January/February, and when we make a hole for the ladies to go ice -- I mean, ice --

KAREN BREWSTER: For jigging? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Flounder. Yeah, jigging and trying to get flounders. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It used to be maybe five feet thick ‘cause our tuuq. Our ice tuuq, what do you call a ice --? KAREN BREWSTER: Tuuq. Ice pick. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But, I know -- I know what you mean by a tuuq.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Okay. We’d get close to the end of the handle. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Before we finally hit water.

And by the time -- Me and my friend, we did that for our mothers for Mother’s Day around the mountain.

And they said, “We did the hole, the water came up.” And they said, “We had to poke more.”

And it’s supposed to be like cone-shaped. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Like that. A small hole on top and then cone going down. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And the elderly ladies sure laughed. They had to fix the holes up, ‘cause they only have -- we only --

What me and my friend did was only poke maybe three holes on the bottom. They had to fix it up before they could go fishin’. I mean --

KAREN BREWSTER: Because it didn’t get cone shaped? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No. And so -- yeah, they -- my mother said that they -- her and my friend’s mother said they had to -- they had to fix the holes. You know, for tom-codding.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so why did it -- because it was so deep? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. The ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: The ice was so thick? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: That it didn't -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: On the -- Yeah, around the mountain. KAREN BREWSTER: So it didn't -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That was the shorefast ice, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. It didn’t make the hole the right way? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

Like I said, maybe we only had a foot and a half of shaft left. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I see. Oh, okay. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That was so funny.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that was unusual to have it be that thick? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Well, that was the usual thickness as I was growing up. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh yeah. Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And then, you know, I mean my uncle did the -- for UAF, I guess. The ice thickness. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Big difference between then and at the time. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Kind of saddening to see, but -- we did several holes made through the ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you remember, like most recently about how thick it might’ve been? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It was mainly less than three feet. Very thin. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And we actually used a machine. KAREN BREWSTER: You used an auger thing? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Auger, yeah. To drill the holes.

Whereas, you know, we’d probably have to use a extension to the auger, which we didn’t have, to go all the way through. KAREN BREWSTER: For that fishing hole? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Well, to measure the ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah. Back then, yeah. Hm.

So when you go for -- this is a separate subject, but when you go floundering, are you jigging for those through the hole? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. You got --

KAREN BREWSTER: Like for Arctic cod? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Jigging or floundering, you use a spear. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Thin-shaft spear, maybe about seven feet. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: With three -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right. Those, I know -- three-pronged. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you stand at the hole and you can see the -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, you lay on the fl -- lay -- and the ladies use the -- they are -- you use a willow -- the jigger has the hook. It's just this, like a fake flounder on there. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And you do that until they can -- then when they come around, jchew.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow! That takes a lot of talent. Skill.


LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Everything is lot of patience when you’re doing subsistence hunting at the ocean. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Has to be very patient . KAREN BREWSTER: That’s true

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But we waited for sixteen days when I got my first whale in 1991. Of course, though, it was good conditions.

Yeah, the ice was much different. KAREN BREWSTER: Can you tell me what it was like? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It was a little thicker.

And me observing all the time taught me a good lesson of how whales behave. I was following three. Very close to shorefast ice, maybe fifty feet away.

I was on the outer side of the -- of the whales, and they’re in between me and the shorefast ice -- three of ‘em.

They dove a long -- dove a long time and I watch ‘em deep below the sea. I mean, below the ocean. Very visible.

And then they were heading north and all three of ‘em went down in sequence. And they all turned around and headed back south. And I turned around, too.

I tried to tell the other crew, but they kept going.

And finally they caught on and that’s when they were trying to sneak out.

And that’s when my uncle struck. Of course, on the wrong side, left side. But it worked.

I keep telling him, it's -- and the other two was a little bit far anyways and then this third one all of a sudden came up on the -- KAREN BREWSTER: Ah. So do you know the --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We always keep the right side clear like -- you know, everybody knows that. KAREN BREWSTER: So, you -- you --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No matter what kinda -- ugruk hunting, walrus hunting, whale hunting. Everything’s clear on the right side.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that you can throw the harpoon from the right side? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Or -- or -- Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Or shoot from the right side? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: So nothing won’t get tangled. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you usually -- you always shoot or harpoon from the right side? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Always. Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. Interesting! LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So those three whales that turned around, was there something in the ice that made them turn around? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No, it was -- they were tryin’ to run away from us. Yeah.

They’re very smart. KAREN BREWSTER: Yep.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: They can hear a long ways. We can hear ‘em comin’ with a paddle. KAREN BREWSTER: Really?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, you put the paddle in the ocean. You’re laying near the ice edge and put the paddle down. Put the paddle near to your ear and there’ll be all kind of communication noises.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I know they make a lot of noises, but -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: They’ll make different noises, you know. They're -- these go (imitates noises).

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But that you can hear it through the vibration on the paddle, that’s really cool.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. They didn't know that up there. I had a lot of teachers do that, and -- Wow! You could hear ‘em!

KAREN BREWSTER: So, you were talking before about watching for the weather. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Uh-huh

KAREN BREWSTER: The things you’re looking for to tell you, "Well, this isn’t good, we better move."

What other things are you -- are you watching the current? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yes, the current.

Sometime it’ll come to a absolute stop for maybe, maybe, I don’t know, forty-five minutes, a hour.

Then all of a sudden it’ll -- it'll reverse and slowly at first, going the other direction and then slowly pick up as the day goes on.

And that’s a indicator for that the wind direction is changing.

That could be, you know, I don’t know how many miles away, but it’s maybe fifty miles away or so.

But you actually see it stop and then switch the other way. And that’s when the ice comes in.

KAREN BREWSTER: And that's when -- So when you see that happening with the current -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Mm-hm? KAREN BREWSTER: -- what do you do? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Well, we kind of say, “Well, it’s almost time to pack up.”

I’ll observe a little bit more longer and, sure enough, ice come in. Sometimes very quickly.

There’s one boat that got caught and they barely made it in. They didn’t make it to the launch so they had to come -- come up on a very steep -- pulled up the boat on a very steep -- chop the ice good enough to pull up the boat. And soon as they pulled up, the ice came in.

They would have got caught, smashed or what have you. They were very lucky.

One person actually a tanik was there. He got wet to his chest.

He had slipped and barely hang on to the -- to the boat as they were trying to pull the boat up. 'Cause they had to go fast. They had to be fast. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Anything like that’s happening, you have to be fast. You have to be prepared, my dad always told me. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But he used to walk on thin ice in January, February. Go shoot a seal, go get it.

My uncle followed him out there one time. He was walking on -- he had made -- he made my mother make big mukluks so he can -- oversize mukluk so he could walk on thin ice a little bit better, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Huh. Like having bigger feet? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Bigger surface area, yeah. Spread your weight out, like a snowshoe kind of. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, but they were mukluks. KAREN BREWSTER: But they were mukluks? Wow, that’s cool.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And he made her make one side mukluk with the fur out. I mean, the skin -- I mean, yeah. And then the other one fur in.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So, double mukluks?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: One side was fur out and the other one was -- other side was fur in. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh!

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: He was experimenting.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. Did it work? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh yeah. I still got ‘em at home. KAREN BREWSTER: He made it back home.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, I still got the mukluks at home.

KAREN BREWSTER: You’d think that the fur out on the bottom would help with traction. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I mean, they're -- KAREN BREWSTER: Or were they ugruk bottom? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ugruk bottoms.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, they were still an ugruk bottom?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But the tops were -- were seal. Not -- they were hard tanned. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay . LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Not real softly tanned. Yeah, he's once -- KAREN BREWSTER: So --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: He didn’t like bunny boots by the way. KAREN BREWSTER: He did not like -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Bunny boots. KAREN BREWSTER: No, mukluks were warmer? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. He always make sure --

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So did he teach -- talk to you about how to walk on thin ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No, I was -- he still trying -- you know, I was in grade -- eighth grade before I got shipped out to high school. My uncle was there. Had already graduated or --

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So, yeah. So you got shipped out for high school? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes, to Nome. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, to Beltz High School in Nome? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so then, that period, did you kinda get -- weren’t hunting as much in that period? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: In -- in the '70s when that Mr. Christensen was where I got my interest. And I kept it.

And then as -- after I graduated, I really hunting with these other crews. Finally in ’87, I got my own boat.

So, listening to the elders, observing, getting tips here, from here and there, really helped. You have to be, you know, communicative and listen. Listen all the time.

Like, Gambell people always tell me things. And also up-north people.

My dad really didn’t go whaling. He's kinda -- KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: So all that paid off. Listening, observing.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when you’re talking to some of those other whalers, like in Gambell or Barrow when you were trying to learn, what were some of the things you would ask them? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Uhh.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did you ask them questions? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

Some of them were kind of dangerous, like, how they tried to save the powder and keep 'em from getting damp. There was -- years before, powder was hard to get back then. It’s even harder now. But they would save it anyways.

And Burton Rexford, Atkaan, he said he’d save his powder from the year before and put it in a pan, spread it out, turn the oven on, turn it back off, put it in there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, my gosh! Amazed he didn't blow his house up. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah! But he turned the oven on just to make it hot enough to dry the powder.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. What about ice things? Did they -- what did they teach you about the ice? Or is it too different? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Who’s that?

KAREN BREWSTER: Those -- those other whalers. Did they -- did you ask them about ice conditions and things you needed to know? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yeah.

Not very much of ice conditions, but they would tell me that they -- like Barrow, for instance. They have to go way out. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Or Gambell. They’d be pretty much right there. And then, of course, some of them they have to go across -- across the island to their whaling camps.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I didn’t know if, you know, what the guys in Barrow experience about ice, does that work for -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: For Wales? KAREN BREWSTER: -- Wales? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No, very different. Very different. Because of our destination to the ice.

We’re very close. Quarter mile out, like I said, maybe.

Go a little bit north, maybe two miles away from the village.

But we have a, you know, a launch downside of the airport in Wales.

And in my case, I’d look out there ‘cause I live up on a hill, and I’d spot several places.

One was right downside of my house where the ocean -- water’s always open, versus when you go two miles north of Wales the water is closed and you can’t go anywhere with that.

But where I go is right downside of my house, downside the village practically. And there’s open water.

KAREN BREWSTER: There’s an open lead right there? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: So when you’re at your house looking out trying to decide where to go, what are you looking for? What -- besides the open water is close?

Is there something in the ice that you’re looking at? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. Low -- low ice where you can make a launch always, and a safe place.

When you pick a launch, you kinda pick a launch by a -- a -- a pressure ridge. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And then there’ll be a low spot most of the time. That’s what I look at. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: The other times when they’re -- were hunting with -- as I was learning with the umiaqs. Where there’s a point, my dad used to tell me not to go.

If there’s a point going out, a little ice point going out, you can be there, too, 'cause the whales will probably not go around that point.

KAREN BREWSTER: No, they go under the point LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Under it, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: So it might be maybe a thousand feet out, the point. And they'll -- Yeah, they won’t go around it though. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But he always tell me to hunt by the point. The ice point.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But there’s not always an ice point with a low spot. How do you -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That’s the reason I’m looking for, when I'm -- from my house. If I see one, then I’ll try to go there. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: If possible.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Do you ever get those -- I can’t think of the Iñupiaq term. In Barrow they have an Iñupiaq term and I haven’t thought about it for a while.

But you kind of get this wall that’s shearing. The ice moves along and it kind of builds up this wall alongside it? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yes. Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: I can’t remember what it’s called, but you get that? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Straight up? Yeah. Straight-up wall? KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. We get those from the current, and ice rubbing with shorefast ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. It’s not an ivu, but it-- it kind of rubs along the edge. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. And makes this wall. About this high.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. What do you guys call that? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I can’t -- KAREN BREWSTER: You don’t remember. It’s in -- I’m sure it’s in your Wales ice dictionary, but --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: My uncle made a ice dictionary. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. We have that. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Okay.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s why I say, it’s probably in there. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah .

KAREN BREWSTER: But -- but you guys do get that kind of ice condition? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yes. Yes, yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: So what -- what causes that? What -- what’s happening when that goes on? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Current and wind. Very strong current.

KAREN BREWSTER: Does it have to be coming from a certain direction? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And not very high -- the floe ice not very high. I mean, you know, not very big humongous icebergs. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Or ice -- ice cakes rather. Rubbing against the shorefast ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: So is it like a certain direction wind and current that does that? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, basically south wind. Always south wind.

Northwest wind is a little different. It doesn’t really rub against the shorefast ice ‘cause it’s pretty much parallel.

I mean, you know -- and it’s a little bit further away from northwest wind -- the floe ice. A little bit further away.

Versus -- versus south wind is really right against tight -- tight against the shorefast ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right. So the south wind brings those floe pieces in tight? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Right. Tight, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And then it moves along the edge? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. With the current. Very strong current.

KAREN BREWSTER: And northwest -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Is a little bit further up.

KAREN BREWSTER: -- it moves ice in, but it doesn’t come and hit it? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. That’s interesting. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Mm-hm. KAREN BREWSTER: And what happens -- Do you ever --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Unless the northwest wind is very strong, and then it’ll happen.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And do you get that where ice kind of comes out from underneath where you’re standing? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It’s either ice that is stuck below, gets loose and then comes popping out, 'cause big ice cakes are -- from the pressure ridges are pushed down, too. Not only up there, but pushed down.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so when that starts -- when it starts --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: When they get loose, springtime, they’ll all of a sudden come up, and those are pretty dangerous. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That’s why when we’re at the launch, we kinda stay a little bit away from the shore, unless it’s fairly open water.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. So why is that dangerous when those pieces start popping? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Because it will pop up and cause a big -- you know, like a cork coming up. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You know, phew (imitates sound).

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, so the water -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Water --

KAREN BREWSTER: It pushes water back onto the ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Well, the water -- the -- pushes the water as a ice cake is coming up and pop-up.

You can get hit by one of those if it’s -- if you’re directly on top of it. And it can cause some damage or very serious problems.

KAREN BREWSTER: So if you’re in the boat, you mean, and it hits you? Or if you're -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- standing on the ice?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Or if you’re too close or -- If you’re in the boat and too close to the shorefast ice.

That’s why my grandpa always say you stay a little away from the shorefast ice. I got scolding because of that.

KAREN BREWSTER: When you’re in your boat? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: In my own boat. Or when I’m -- yeah, in my own boat. Stay away.

And I very much try to respect that ‘cause, you know, things could happen very drastically and dangerously.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so his advice for staying away was ‘cause of those pieces popping up? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: And they could hit you. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Interesting.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You know, I actually see it, I mean -- KAREN BREWSTER: Really? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. So somebody got hit by one? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No. KAREN BREWSTER: No. But you've seen -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But it must’ve happened before and so they know that.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Hm. But what if you’re standing on the ice edge or at the -- at the launch ramp looking -- watching for whales and those pieces start popping up? That’s dangerous, too? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. And we kind of stay away from those type of conditions.

So you really have to observe the ice before you’re gonna pick your launch.

Kind of hard thing to do, but you have to do it. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So if there --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You’re watching over your crew members. You’re responsible for them.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, well, you wanted to pass on what you know to the younger guys. What are you telling them about -- ?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: My oldest son who’s taking over, he’s hunted with me before and he’s -- he’s out -- he’s observant, too.

He's picked -- he -- he picked up those things and sometimes he’ll correct me, “Dad, remember?” "Okay."

'Cause I get a little brave sometime. He’ll look at me, “Dad, you remember?”

KAREN BREWSTER: You're pushing the envelope, huh? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. He's working at home, school district.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Yeah. So what is it -- can you think of something you’ve talked to him about that’s important that he’s looking for, for making the launch?

You said the -- out at the point and kind of near, but not too close to a pressure ridge. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: What else? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Of course, low ice. You know, where there is not very high of a place where you don’t have to work so hard.

Some years we really work hard to get to the launch area. A lot of work.

It take -- and then it takes a -- a -- a good group of people. You have to work together. Everything has -- everybody have to work toget -- do that. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I try to -- I’ve always tried to say that. It’s getting further and further away from that topic, you know.

And I try to keep on mentioning it and mentioning it ‘cause times are changing, people are changing.

I’ll still say the same thing and it still will happen. It’s still happening. You just gotta listen.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. So even now with the ice thinner, you sometimes have to work pretty hard to build that ramp? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Yep. ‘Cause of the -- yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And why? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: There might be layers of ice below. Like the edge is right here, there might be ice below, piled up beneath.

You're clear out there on the ice edge, you look -- and look down near the edge -- ice edge, and look down in the ocean to see how -- see how -- where the bottom -- where you think the bottom of the shorefast ice is.

And if it continues down, you can -- you can pretty much tell where --

KAREN BREWSTER: You can see it? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Or you -- you use your tuuq? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No. Actually see it.

Or you can try to use your harp -- big walking stick, and try to go down like that to see if it'll touch the bottom.

And if it doesn’t -- or if it does, you’re okay, but if it doesn’t then -- Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So it’s a good spot if you put your measuring stick down and it doesn’t hit anything? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s a good spot? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And then how do they --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And if you hit something -- well, no, if you hit something, yeah -- That’s a pretty complicated question.

KAREN BREWSTER: Why is it a complicated question? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I never came to those occasions before. Hardly.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So when you’re building the ramp, you’re working with the ice picks and breaking it into an actual ramp? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Nowadays it’s chainsaws. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh!

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And then you make a bunch of chainsaw cuts. And then you use your ice picks and axes to break off part. Make a gradual ramp.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you’re breaking like small chunks? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Yeah. You know, to pull up the whale.

But I always tell ‘em that -- and my grandfather always told me to make the ramp real deep at the edge. You know, so you have a gradual ramp.

One time in ‘90 -- or the one in ‘91 was kinda steep. I keep telling them gotta go deeper and deeper. It was kinda steep, so we had a little tough time pulling up the whale. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And there was just the -- just the community. Our community is small.

They were -- most of the community members were in Shishmaref doing something. Basketball or something. But they’re all -- most of ‘em were out there. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, man.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: So there’s just a few adults and lots of kids, but we did it!

KAREN BREWSTER: You did it! Wow. And you use a block and tackle? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And pull by hand? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And there’s some taniks there from like used to be a navy station there. And he helped out a lot. KAREN BREWSTER: Cool.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And then how to -- instead of making a -- you make a hole in the ice to put a log down there for the anchor. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: For the block and tackle. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: He helped us out on that.

And the other time was we couldn’t get always through the shorefast ice. Couldn’t make a hole.

So we used poles, AVAC poles for powerline poles. Cut ‘em. We got scolded for that.

Made the hole just right. Put them in at an angle, of course. Put those poles down there, two of ‘em.

Put the big thick strap on there for the anchor. For the block and tackle.

KAREN BREWSTER: Now why could you -- why were you having a hard time getting through? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Because of the thickness of the ice. You know, the hole -- the anchor has to be little ways in. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And it was a little bit too thick for our equipment we had. We don’t have everything in the world like other communities do.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what year was that? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, boy. ’94. My uncle’s whale. That was Uncle Spuck.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s -- that's pretty late for -- you know, with the thinning ice that’s been happening, that as late as ‘94 it was still thick. Too thick to put the anchor in. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, to make a hole and put down.

Yeah, usually you get a thick log and tie the strap or the rope around that log and sink it in.

So, you know, when the log goes into the hole, it’ll come up like this. KAREN BREWSTER: It comes up sideways. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. It blocks it. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I think they call it a windlass. I think that’s what a wind -- I know what you mean. Dead -- There’s another word they use, a deadman anchor or something. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But I know what you mean.

But as I was saying, that 1994 that was still pretty thick ice if you couldn’t get through that.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. ‘Cause you know the deadman was kind of far, and most of the ice was piled up at that point. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, it was already -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It was already -- I mean, it was piled below the --

KAREN BREWSTER: It was shallow -- It was more shallow there, so it was already kind of piled up and grounded below?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, where we tried to put the hole. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: After we made the ramp, tried to make a hole and couldn’t get through. KAREN BREWSTER: ‘Cause it was too ground -- too -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: There might have been ice piled up beneath.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. So that launch ramp, that’s for pulling up the whale? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Is it also where you launch your boats? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No, we have a -- our own launch for the boat. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Then after the whale is -- is gotten, we then make the ramp maybe at a little bit different spot close to where the -- where the boat launch is or right there.

Or at the boat launch itself. But very few feet away from the boat launch. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Kind of look at the ice edge and decide where we’re gonna make a gradual ramp.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Where it’s a good spot. But I would think for launching your boat, you want a pretty low spot, too? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: What about the -- the -- the multi-year ice? In Barrow, they call it piqaluyak. Do you know about that? Do you guys get that? The glacier ice?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. We used to. And Uncle Spuck would be more thorough about that.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. Do you remember seeing it before? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, yeah, as I was growing up. Multi -- what do you call it?

KAREN BREWSTER: Piqaluyak. Well, in Utqiaġvik they call it piqaluyak. Or multi-year ice. Some people call it glacier ice.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh! We don’t get those too much. We might have way back then. Multi -- yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: The blue.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Yeah. Not any -- Not any much more now, but, we -- yeah, we did.

KAREN BREWSTER: You’ve heard people talk about it? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Blue -- blue ice. And it stacks up there on the pressure ridges.

You can see -- actually see it. I thought it would be clear water. Mm, that’s good drinking water. Good drinking water.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So you guys used to use it for drinking water? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, no. KAREN BREWSTER: No?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We get it on top of ice where the sun melted, and you can -- if taste it and salty, it’s no good.

I mean either it’s snow that melted on top of the ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. But you guys wouldn’t go use that blue ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Blue ice. Well, I never see anybody use it. But it's -- it was -- you know, it’s there. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You sure can tell the difference by almost that color. But, yeah, you can tell the difference. The blue ice. KAREN BREWSTER: But nowadays?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, haven’t been out for a while now because --

KAREN BREWSTER: And when was the last time you went out, took your crew out? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That would have been 2002, I guess, was the last time. Of course, my -- I have a real bad arthritis back. So, it’s really bothering. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Kinda start slowing down.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But so between the ‘70s and 2002 when you were out there all the time, did you notice a difference with that blue ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yes. Back in the ‘70s, there was more of it. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Definitely more of it.

KAREN BREWSTER: And by 2002, did you see any? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You know, it was not very visible. I mean, more or less visible. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Very interesting.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. I’m wondering, too, about -- you know, you said Wales, it’s so dynamic with ice moving a lot. Are there stories about people drifting out on the ice?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Yep. There is at home. The wind will change and all of a sudden -- Of course, you have to look at the ice -- I mean, for cracks, big cracks. I'm always looking for cracks.

Matter of fact, the one whale that Mister Christensen got, where they tried to pull up the whale, they couldn’t pull it up.

A big crack was -- would have to jump over the crack to get to the ice edge. It actually came off.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm. While they were pulling up the whale?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Well, they couldn’t pull up the whale, so they just cut -- cutting up in the ocean. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Then all of a sudden it broke off and they lost -- lost some of the whale, but they got most of the maktak, a little bit of the meat. But it took the rest of the whale out.

KAREN BREWSTER: And the people got back across? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. We got -- Yeah, people got back safely. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: But it was getting thicker. Pretty soon you have to -- you know -- maybe foot at first.

Same thing happened in ‘92 when I was out there. In fact, the principal was trying to jump the crack and he slipped and went almost Davy Jones locker. Just came back up. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: There was some guy run over there with a hook. Thought it was a seal or something.

And we were on this side of the -- opposite side of the village.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, yeah. So he pulled him out? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: On the east side. Over on the east side of the island, where they -- all the way around the island to go hunt on east side. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Where -- 'cause of the conditions of the ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that guy they pulled him out with a hook? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I guess so. He had a musket. I mean, you know, black powder musket.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So that time with Mister Christiansen pulling up the whale, that was in the early ‘70s? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: '70s, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. So --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: May 8, I think, they hunted for a whale. KAREN BREWSTER: What year?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I was thinking May 8 or something around there. Can’t remember now.

But they -- they hunted ever since late March 'til that date. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. That’s a long time.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes, well, whenever there's conditions were right. And they all had mukluks, genuine clothing. All using white -- white --

KAREN BREWSTER: Makes a difference? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Probably, yeah, ‘cause, you know, you put up ice cakes - thin ice - for on the ice edge.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, for wind break? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No. For the -- so the whales won’t -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right. They don’t see you?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. So we put up thin ice cakes like that on the edge facing the south. So they don’t see you. Exactly.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, I want to -- I’m interested in what you said about cracks. That -- what are you -- What are you looking for? How do you know whether it’s cracking or not?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Well, the water will be visible. The crack will be there.

KAREN BREWSTER: But if you’re at the ice edge and a crack’s behind you, how do you know that? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Well, we observe. I mean, we look at the ice.

And this one was extension ice, the one that -- KAREN BREWSTER: Okay, so the -- the extension broke off? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It broke off, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Does that happen frequently? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Uhh. KAREN BREWSTER: Does that happen a lot?


You know, at that time they didn’t have all of that equipment. I guess the principal was the only one with snowmachine. Maybe one other or two other community members.

But he was the only one with basically everything. Everything was -- yeah. Had to walk down to the ice edge.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Yeah, it sounds scary to me, the idea of those cracks happening behind you. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: You can get floated out.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Yep. That happened many years ago.

One guy broke off, died. Crack -- I mean, the ice broke off and he drifted out.

Don’t remember his name, but at the time I hear the elders talk about it.

And my dad always talk about it. And, you know, kind of seriously. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: He knows about those stuff.

So, we used to watch out for those kind. Either find another place to hunt. It's the best thing, I guess.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. So that time with Mister Christensen and that extension broke off, do you know what the wind and the current were doing?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, the current was a slight current. The wind was slight, too.

With a block -- oh, no block and tackle -- but they were trying to put block and tackle. Somethin’ held it together until it was time to go, ‘cause it was -- keep getting wider and wider.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was wondering how that -- why it broke off and started getting wider and wider. If the wind was calm and the current was calm, what caused it?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Maybe the -- oh, I know. What happened was as the day went on -- Of course, you know it takes a while -- couple, two, three days to get the whale butchered up.

But as the time was going on, the wind didn’t really pick up, but the current did definitely pick up. So that’s what happened. The current had picked up.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you have -- is there a certain wind or current that kinda pushes the ice up? That would make it break off and -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. The tide. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yep, that’s what happened. I forgot about the tide. There’d be lots of tide change. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: You can tell where the ice -- I mean, the tide, how high it went up on the ice. You know, 'cause of the sediments in the water will leave the -- a mark on the ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I see. Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: On the ice edge. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. On the facing edge. Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Where the water come up, there’ll be another ragged line of sediments on it.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. And so if you see that, what does it tell you? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: High and low tide. That’s what makes the ice go like that, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Break up, move. So, does Wales get a pretty big difference between high and low tide? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Huh?

KAREN BREWSTER: What kind of a difference do you get between high and low tide? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, not very much. It’s not too much. Maybe two -- not even two feet, I guess. Foot and a half. KAREN BREWSTER: 'Cause I was wondering -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It varies, too, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: If the -- if the tide comes up under that extension ice, is it gonna break it off? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: And float it out?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. As the tide rises, it’s like a big hinge there. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And then pretty soon sphew (imitates sound). It’ll break off because of the hinge action of the ice from the shorefast ice and the extension ice going up and down like that. Because it’s thinner extension ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Does it affect the shorefast ice? Or that's -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No. KAREN BREWSTER: That stays? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It’s just the extension that goes.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm. So when you’re going out on the ice, with a -- you know, nowadays you’d go out by snowmachine. You used to walk.

What are you looking for? Like is it a color of ice or the shape of ice that tells you this is safe. I’m going that way or I’m going to avoid that spot?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, the color. I mean the -- ‘cause there’s variations of -- of color if you can tell. Variation of color, yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: So what color is -- ? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Like the -- like the -- you know, the gray ice is a lot thinner than the white ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So you want to avoid the gray ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, yeah. Definitely.

KAREN BREWSTER: And then there’s white ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, white ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what is that? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That’s thicker, all -- year-round ice. Or, you know, it started in -- used to be October/November and stayed the whole winter? KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Versus the gray ice was -- just got there and start to form to be frozen. 'Cause saltwater takes a long time to freeze. Or longer than freshwater.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And is there like a dark ice, like a black-colored ice?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Black ice. That’s what the last year’s ice or something like that?

KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t know. There’s gray. There’s white. Is there black?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Black ice, yeah. That’s why when we’re going in a boat, as we’re boating around, “Watch out for black ice!” Somebody always holler out.

So we’re always out -- watching out as we’re boating for black ice. ‘Cause, you know, that’s pretty strong. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Stronger ice is very hard for some reason.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. So that’s if you’re out in the lead and you see chunks? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. We have to stay away.

KAREN BREWSTER: You avoid those? Do you ever see that in shorefast ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, no. Not on shorefast ice. Just floe ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Huh, okay. Cool. I've never heard of that.

And then we talked about the blue ice, which is the multi-year. Other color ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Eskimo ice?

KAREN BREWSTER: What’s -- There’s ice cream. I don’t think you see red ice or yellow -- Well, though, you could see yellow ice.

Were there other things that you wanted to tell me, that you want to pass on to the younger people? Certain things you wanted to talk about?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Let’s see, there was ivu. KAREN BREWSTER: Ivu, the pressure ridges? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: What about them?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Well, they could either tumble or, you know, break up. And if you’re in a -- like I said, too close to -- that start falling in as the spring goes by, later in the spring.

KAREN BREWSTER: They’ll start fal -- collapsing? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Collapsing, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: That’s why we stay away. Other than that --

Earlier, as the ice develops more, there could be -- look like a good ice where you can walk on, but apparently it’s thin in some areas.

Like maybe a small hole. And then there’s in that small little hole -- big hole or something like that in the ice -- shorefast ice, there might be a big hole with very thin ice on it, and it looks white.

But, you know, those -- that type of ice it’s hard to tell. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Until you try to go through it, and then either your snowmachine track start -- is -- starts to get wet as soon as you go through it.

You look back and you see the -- that -- where you went -- went by through it, it’s starting to get wet versus where it's -- where it doesn’t.

That means there’s -- that very th -- that the -- that didn’t quite freeze.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, well you said that's hard to see, so -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, ‘cause of all the snow -- snow falling on top. First snow.

KAREN BREWSTER: How do you avoid those? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, if you could recognize it, there’d be a rim. Very small rim going around the hole like that. KAREN BREWSTER: Around the edge? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: On the hole edge, yeah.

If you could recognize that, which I do, I mainly go around it. And there’s -- some of them aren’t that big. Not very big. Yeah. They don’t get very huge.

KAREN BREWSTER: No, but what does that rim look like? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It’s piled up -- what do you call it? Just like a rim, not very high. KAREN BREWSTER: But it’s of ice?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It’s all -- yeah -- it’s all ice. It’s all around the -- all around the hole. KAREN BREWSTER: The hole, okay. So there's --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: ‘Cause of the tide going up and down creates that slush to pile up around the hole.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. And then it’s kind of refrozen a little bit around the top? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, and then as the snow falls or blowing snow, cover it --

KAREN BREWSTER: But what -- what happens if you get off onto one of those? You say, you start to see your snowmachine track gettin’ wet. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Speed up!

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s what I thought. Just keep moving.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. We’ve seen snowmachines get stuck in those. There was some National Guard snowmachiners with big, heavy snowmachines.

One apparently got barely -- double-track got stuck like that and took quite a few other machines to pull it out. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, because it --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: So heavy, the snowmachines. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, then it freezes because it’s in water. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So those -- those holes, do they go all the way down to open water? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yes, yes. Yes, they do.

KAREN BREWSTER: So you don’t want to go through one and fall through.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. But you can hardly -- you can’t recognize it as you’re going with a snowmachine. Basically, when you’re going either slow or walking you can recognize those things.

Or when you’re at the ice edge or at the launch.

They’re -- they're -- they're basically a little bit in -- in -- inside the ice, shorefast ice. ‘Cause it’ll create --

I kinda thought those are created by, maybe, bubbles of the ocean coming up and creating that to be open.

And then causes that because of the action of the ocean.

KAREN BREWSTER: Because it’s -- it's on the shore side of the pressure ridges? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. 'Cause of the action of the ocean.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Interesting. What other things do the young people need to know?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Gray ice. We’re talkin’ about that. Of course, wind. Indication of upcoming wind. They -- they have a good idea of that.

KAREN BREWSTER: You said those clouds at the rock. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, and our mountain and Fairway Rock or Siberia side, too, where Uelen is.

That mountain there. If you see a cloud going over it like that, you know -- going over the big hill or mountain, going like that.

KAREN BREWSTER: And then going down? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: We could see it from Wales going down like that and big, strong northwest wind coming.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. And time to move?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, it’s time to pack up and go home. Have a good, hot -- a good meal, cup of tea, at home crackers. Lot’s of interesting stuff.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, as I say, you know, I know you had things you wanted to share and make sure the young people know about and the changes you’ve seen.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. My -- my boys really pick -- pick it up. My oldest boy and then my youngest boy.

My middle -- middle boy is here in Anchorage. He don’t hardly go out boating ‘cause when he was young we kind of pushed out kind of fast and he fell off the seat and hit his head on the chair.

So after that he don’t like to go boating.

KAREN BREWSTER: No. But you think that the young guys in Wales goin' to keep up this tradition of whaling? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. I’m -- I’m pretty sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: You feel like they’ve learned enough? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Well, they still got learning to do. Of course, I’m still learning, too, but I’m a little bit retired but I’ll pass on my knowledge, what I have.

But, yeah, they -- they want to know things like that. And my oldest son really likes to pick it up.

KAREN BREWSTER: What kind of things does he ask you about? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Weather, ice -- I mean, current and, you know, how to -- where to harpoon the whale.

Versus you just don’t harpoon it any old place. You’ll have a chance to hit it at the right spot so it won’t suffer too hard. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And, you know, other things. Like he’s always paying attention.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. That sounds like it’s key. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Paying attention.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Sitting by me all the time. "Hey, Dad, it’s time to go home. Look at those clouds out there."

KAREN BREWSTER: And so, what do you think the future is if -- with all this changing in the ice, what -- what might that mean for you guys in Wales? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Later generations?

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Or even now? It’s changing and --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It's -- To me it’s getting more bleak. You have to be very aware, more aware than before, because the weather change so quickly.

All of a sudden, it is just -- you know, just like that. Not like before where it’ll take a little bit of time.

But nowadays it’s (snaps fingers) just like that and all of a sudden, you know, you’re in a blizzard or a different type of wind. Within a few hours! KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Really, it’s -- yeah, getting kind of -- yeah, scary, I would say.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. What if there’s no more ice? Well, then what? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, I don’t know.

I think people gonna have a harder time tryin’ to get what they traditionally eat. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And some of us are getting a little bit elderly, like the Seetook son.

Now he’s getting a little bit elderly. His health is not too good.

KAREN BREWSTER: Could you go whaling from Wales from the shore if there was no ice? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, I joked about that one time. KAREN BREWSTER: Really?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Apparently, it was possible. I don’t think that will happen in my time but --

I always think about the future, for the next generation. How their world is gonna be?

With all this different kind of a global warming they say, but it’s really affecting -- very much so -- the weather.

Yeah, darker clouds, faster weather conditions, changing conditions.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. What are the darker clouds? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Like you’re hunting in the springtime and it look like rain clouds and dark.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. And you didn’t used to have those? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Ah, no. Not in the springtime. KAREN BREWSTER: Huh.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: It was strange one time. KAREN BREWSTER: Interesting.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: What was I gonna say? The times of before were much earlier. Now they’re getting later. And then paying attention to weather nowadays versus --

And then the younger generation's gotta keep their ears open instead of always on their cell phones when there’s time to go out.

While the weather’s good, you gotta go out. Instead, they’ll sit there on their cell phone waiting 'til it’s time. "Okay it’s time to go!" They’re still on their cell phones.

And by the time, they’re -- we get all ready in the boat, so everything’s all ready, the weather changes like that.

Well, I guess we got to stay home. Tried to tell you guys.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it is. It's -- you take advantage of the window and go.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. There’s not much window open for this. That -- the right conditions. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s interesting. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yep.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I have heard other people say, you know, it’s freezing up later and it’s breaking up earlier. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: So the time you have out there -- LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Is very, very narrow now.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. And you’ve noticed that and it affects your activities?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, you know, when my dad sent me out to Little Diomede when I was in grade school. Eleven years old, I guess. It was June. Before my birthday is June 9.

We had -- still had shorefast ice. Three Diomede skin boats came in.

We walked on the edge of the mountain to go out there to the skin boats and -- versus now. It’s --

The ice is gone. Was gone by May or -- yeah, very early in May. May 28th or something like that? Gone. Whereas in June there was still a lot of ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, and so that was in the what? The ‘60s?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, that was -- I’m born in ’54, so eleven years after that. KAREN BREWSTER: So ‘65? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Something like that? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: So your dad sent you to Diomede for a year? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Not a year. A couple months.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, like for the summer?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No, not for the summer. Almost. I get homesick climbing around look at Wales Mountain. Finally, go home.

They still were living in those sod houses with rock. They still were using seal oil lamp.

KAREN BREWSTER: Over in Diomede? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. To cook their food.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. So did he send you there for -- not -- for whaling or -- ?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: No, for -- you know, for -- I don’t know. He’s got relatives out there.


LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Or, you know, he’s got a lot of relatives.

KAREN BREWSTER: So how come -- Yeah, so how come he sent you there?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And then after he sent me there, I went home. Then he sent me to Brevig (Mission). KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: With a skinboat. The last skinboat for Brevig.

KAREN BREWSTER: So were you a troublemaker? He wanted you out of the house?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I don’t know. I was with all sorts of family, maybe he just wanted me to have the knowledge.

But I did my own knowledge seeking. I went to Point Hope and experiment there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, you must have learned a lot in -- in Diomede? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Birding. A lot of birds. But nowadays I -- I don't know how to eat ‘em.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, this has been great fun. I’ve learned a lot.

Is there anything else you wanted to make sure is recorded for the young people that you wanted to talk about?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, mostly about the weather, which is a lot different than when I was growing up.

And I've been keep trying to tell them that these things are changing. And they have to recognize that very much so.

Observing. Observing all the time. That’s what I did.

Either to prepare or to observe the weather. Mostly preparing.

You prepare way ahead of time, not -- not right at the moment. You'll never get there if you do it right at the moment. Never.

Weather’s gonna change anyway. Whales will already go by. They have their timeframe. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: By the time you’re ready, they’re gone. That’s what happened a couple of years. I see it. You know, I was a little frustrated.

You’re supposed to start getting ready two/three months ahead. Everything clean. Everything clean, loaded.

You know, things are prepared ahead of time. And all you do is, at the right moment pick up and go. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Not try to prepare right there at last moment. You’ll never get there.

I say that time and time off again nowadays. Versus when I started my whaling, I prepared. Once I had too much. I had -- KAREN BREWSTER: But you just --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: I always talk about preparing -- my goal was whaling, alright? Always in my head year round. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Always thinking about whaling. Because, you know, it was gone for, like I said, the whale. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: And I learned a lot of it mostly by myself and picking up tips. My grandfather didn’t prepare to go whaling either, because of that epidemic.

Dad didn’t go whaling ‘cause -- it was just that one time with -- he was on the crew with Christensen’s, and he had some knowledge, a little bit of knowledge.

But he said, "Always be out there early, like they -- like Mr. Christiansen’s crew did."

So, I mean my Uncle Spuck knew that, ‘cause he was on the crew too with Christensen. Along with his brother, Amos. And Herbert Anungazuk. I think you've heard of him. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: He was there, too. Yep. Early. So me and Uncle Spuck always go out 5:30, get coffee, get started getting ready. Get the grub ready.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, that’s the tradition for any subsistence is you go out and you --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah, that includes -- you know, good sharp knives, clean equipment, ropes gotta be prepared, and -- what you call that, braided or weave -- you know, how you do the ropes and make sure that the ropes are set right in the boat.

And ropes for everything. Tying the whale to get it -- to get it -- to have it ready to be -- to tow the whale. Hooks. Everything.

The other crew -- I had a problem with that at home. The other crew didn’t have those type equipment that I do. You know, they didn’t even have a walking stick or a hook -- or a hook to -- to pull up the tail so you can tie a rope to.


LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Very important stuff. They borrowed mine, and then they lost mine. You know, I didn’t get frustrated, I just get -- You know, I just try to tell them, but I don't tell them because, you know, they should know about those things.

He learned from his father in the first place. And then he’d always come up to me and say, "How do you divide it?" I’d say, "I think you should’ve learned that from your dad."

But I tried to teach him as best as I could what I learned from my grandpa about it.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. You just said something that is interesting, that, you know, the weather is different now than when you were growing up and you learned how to read it and understand it when it was different.

But what you learned then, you can still apply that now? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah? It still works?

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Various things. Other than the weather. Dividing --

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, but for the weather part. LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yeah, yeah. Definitely.

KAREN BREWSTER: What you learned about weather, does that still work? LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Oh, yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Maybe a little -- yeah, it still works now.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Well, this has been great!

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Sure was. I was -- I thought about you the other day. I know she's gonna come. Is she --

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, so I don't know if there's -- if there’s anything else you want to talk about or if we’re done? It’s up to you.

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: Yeah. It’s getting a little hot in here. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. So, we're --

LUTHER KOMONASEAK: If we need more later, if anything comes up, I’ll be available. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.