Eugene Brower was interviewed on November 12, 2013 by Karen Brewster and Dyre "Oliver" Dammann at the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska. In this interview, Eugene shares his knowledge of and experience with whaling and changing sea ice conditions around Barrow, Alaska. He discusses the unique conditions of the Spring 2013 whaling season, and adaptation to future change.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Sea Ice
Date of Interview: Nov 12, 2013
Narrator(s): Eugene Brower
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster, Dyre Oliver Dammann
Videographer: Dyre Oliver Dammann
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Learning about sea ice conditions and current when first whaling as a boy
Things to look for when choosing a safe place to set up whale camp on the ice
Effect of wind and current on ice movement near Barrow
Ice conditions in Winter/Spring 2013
Effect of late fall freeze-up on spring ice conditions
Movement and interaction of thin and thick ice
Changes in ice thickness in his lifetime and importance of multi-year ice
Changes in formation and presence of pressure ridges
Location of Barrow whale camps and trails
Effects of climate change
Safety of ice and going whaling in Spring 2013
Safety of pressure ridges
Smooth versus rough ice
Working together to build trails
Use of maps and satellite imagery
Relevance of existing knowledge to changing ice conditions
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
KAREN BREWSTER: So today is November 12th, 2013 and I'm Karen Brewster -- make sure that I can hear myself on this, or Oliver can make sure that I can hear myself.
And this is -- we're here with Eugene Brower in Barrow, Alaska at the Inupiat Heritage Center for the Sea Ice Project. So quyanaqpak for taking some time to visit with me and Oliver. This is Oliver Dammann, who's also here behind the video camera.
So before we start talking about sea ice just a little background so for people who don’t know you, tell me a little bit about you and what age you were when you started whaling and hunting.
EUGENE BROWER: Hello, my is Charles Eugene Brower, but my Eskimo name is Aalaak.
And I 'll say a couple more Eskimo names, Taalak, and Aqsakaaq. Aqsakaaq was my great grandmother name. My dad’s and -- my father Harry Brower, Sr.’s grandmother.
And Taalak was my -- my grandma’s uncle, or brother -- older brother.
And Aalaak is my great grandmother’s name. That’s the name I go by in my whaling crew.
And I start whaling at the age of eight years old under the mentorship of Luther Leavitt, Sr. And that was back in the 1950’s -- mid-50’s when I started whaling.
KAREN BREWSTER: May I interrupt quickly with how old you're now?
EUGENE BROWER: How old am I?
KAREN BREWSTER: Or what year you were born?
EUGENE BROWER: I think I’m 65. Born in 1948 -- February 12th.
When I first went out I took care of the tent, kept it clean, cleaned the pots and pans after they were used by -- for cooking.
They start teaching me things orally. Looking at the current and the ice makeup. How the pressure ridges were formed, and which angle, and that they do have pressure ridges that are formed from the -- with the winds from the north, northeast at times.
Then the most strongest pressure ridges that are built are from the winds that are from the south, southwest to northwest winds that make the pressure ridges that are really grounded and solidly built.
They're grounded under the bottom.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: And they don’t break off. And they told me never to just look at the surface current because the current about 10 to 12 meters down --
I should say 10 to 12 arm lengths down that moves the ice with the wind or into the wind and it's very strong current.
Had to learn those and I just depth sound with a weight, and bring the twine down and see which way the current was moving. Either toward the west or toward the east or -- east would be the correct answer.
And see where the current was moving.
KAREN BREWSTER: And so if the current's moving to the east, what is that telling you?
EUGENE BROWER: The ice ain’t going to move out. It's going to stay put, but if it's going -- heading toward the west --
If there's a pan of ice that hits the shorefast ice from the north, it can take off a sheet of ice and you can go with it.
But at the same time they also had a little compass that they put out away from everything else and make sure that we checked it.
If it starts moving, it tells me that we're floating.
The block up with the pan of ice you're in is twisting in either direction.
So the movement of that compass quickly dictates where the -- you're floating. The ice has sheared off.
So those were the things that were taught when we're very young.
KAREN BREWSTER: I would think if you find out you're floating, it's time to move quickly.
EUGENE BROWER: It's time to move and get -- you load and go. Go first where it's safe.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. So can you tell me a little bit about what is it you're looking for when you're setting up a camp, you know, like these things you’ve learned all through the years.
EUGENE BROWER: You look at the ice, the formation of the ice how it's formed during the course of the year.
How the pressure ridges are formed, from what storm or which way.
We also over time listen to the old whalers, get to know the area where the whales, when they’re migrating north, will most likely surface.
They get a lot of open water between Barrow and toward Point Franklin -- you got a big open spread of water and the whales are going to be traveling closer to the polar pack then they start getting to the shorefast ice up close to NARL --
between NARL and the point -- Point Barrow where the whales are going to get closer to the shorefast ice.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is that because of the contour of the land they follow from Point Franklin?
EUGENE BROWER: No, the contour of the ice.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.
EUGENE BROWER: When they're migrating north they follow the ice that's closest to them.
So if you get a lot of open water between Barrow and Point Franklin and beyond -- If they've been spooked for any reason or they're migrating they stay on that polar ice.
So, but once they hit the shorefast ice -- once the pattern is changed then the whales follow a path.
Just like they go out in the ocean for a while then once -- a couple of them hit shorefast ice the rest have a tendency to follow the shorefast ice traveling north.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: But also your window of opportunity to strike the bowhead in the spring be very critical.
But also your winds play a big factor.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: We get a east, northeast wind. If the water and the ocean stays open but you get a west wind -- southwest wind -- south wind.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: The ice closes up.
You have to pull out and go to where -- two, three miles up inland on the ice where it's safe -- safe ice we call it. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: And wait the weather out.
And you keep checking the ice and if it's -- even with the southwest winds sometimes the current will turn around and open it.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. So a current can work even if the winds aren’t helping?
EUGENE BROWER: That’s right. That's how strong the current is. At the end of -- 10 to 15 fathoms below you.
But as soon as that opens you -- the captain will make an assessment and see if it's safe.
And he’ll take the crew out and wait for the whales to hopefully surface where they're waiting.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: You always try to pick up a pan of ice with a cove in it, and a point where the whales will migrate into the cove and dive.
But also you can meet it and strike it or wait for it on the ice and then just harpoon it.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when you -- after you've pulled back and you said you go out -- the captain will go out and assess if it's safe.
What is it you're looking for? What makes you decide that it's safe?
EUGENE BROWER: How the current is -- how the ice is moving.
If it's moving south it sometimes be grinding the shorefast ice and making -- and putting pressure in and it's going to crack the shorefast ice and when it opens up it's going to shear off.
Where if it's heading west it starts opening up, instead of grinding it on the shorefast ice it opens up.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: And the whales start migrating.
So there's a lot of things that you ought to might be adjusting your mind as to whether it's safe or not, depending on -- looking at the makeup of the ice -- the pressure ridges and the area you're in.
Because if you’re looking at Barrow, we've learned over time Barrow gets -- from Barrow almost to the NARL Bridge gets hit the hardest.
Then after that it kind of loosens up and starts grinding along the edge or starts whirling around -- pans of ice heading north.
From Barrow west by Nunivak, about three miles down the coastline, it might stay open because of the way the current is heading north.
You might have less current up there where the ice is not coming in.
The angle the polar pack is moving in, over here you have a curved -- curve in the head start Franklin Point. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: The ice comes in sometimes that area down by Nunivak toward -- all the way down to the Monument stays open for a while.
Sometimes you get a big opening there where the whales congregate.
KAREN BREWSTER: And it's just because of how the coastline goes and where the ice -- EUGENE BROWER: Yeah and then -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- forms?
EUGENE BROWER: And the ice movement.
KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. I didn’t realize that it hit hardest between Barrow and --
EUGENE BROWER: Right here, right here in front of Barrow. Barrow, Browerville, is where the main force comes in.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: When the current starts coming in. And you can hear that current. It's like a freight train. You get a real loud hum. If you're attuned to it, you'll hear it.
KAREN BREWSTER: So --
EUGENE BROWER: You just got to look at the ice, the way it's moving.
The polar pack isn’t all smooth either. You got points here.
You got a point here and a point here.
Sometimes the way it comes in at the point it's coming in towards the shore fast into a cove over here. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: It's going to hit and it might take some of it off.
Or it might just go and make another pressure ridge and then when it breaks off, you have another quarter of a mile, a half a mile, a mile of trail breaking to get back out to the open lead.
Because that pan of ice is grounded.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, oh, yeah.
EUGENE BROWER: So it's never the same area. It doesn’t open up in the same area.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you don’t know when it comes in if it's going into the cove or bounce off?
EUGENE BROWER: Yes. You just gotta wait -- wait it out. Sometimes, you'll work and it'll stop.
And when it stops, you don’t know if it's going to open real quick or it might take three or four days, maybe a week 'til the current shifts and started moving again.
KAREN BREWSTER: So what happened this last spring of 2013 or last winter 2013
EUGENE BROWER: Last -- In the year 2013, in the spring -- during the winter months we had east and northeast winds constantly. You had a lot of open water. The ice was formed.
We had a few south, southerly winds -- makes some pressure ridges.
Then in April, just before we were getting ready to go out the wind shifted to southwest.
When we get the southwest winds that means that we have a low front down in the -- way down south, way below us in the Bering Sea.
That gives us the counterclockwise -- the wind comes in from the ocean and that's what we had.
Oh, about a month and a half to two months we constant west, southwest winds.
It changed a little bit. Not enough to open up the ice, but it just kept it closed.
So last year -- this spring was the first time we had a very unusual wind pattern that we had -- constant south, southwest winds.
And they told us that it was kind of like a stationary low in the Bering Sea or close to the Russian side.
So they're very unusual weather pattern we had.
KAREN BREWSTER: What happened with the ice forming during the winter before that?
EUGENE BROWER: The ice before that was okay. It was up and down.
The global warming it's taking longer and longer for the ice to form up here off Barrow.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: It's like a big bubble there from Barrow out toward the North Pole.
Sometimes it's forming better in the Russian -- the European side when you look at the weather maps.
But off the coast of Alaska on the North Slope it's open.
You get a big bubble where it's ice free.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: How does those -- those -- the delayed fall freeze up how does that impact spring ice conditions for whaling?
EUGENE BROWER: The ice forms from the north and slowly heads west or south depending on the location you're in.
The ice comes up from the -- from the polar pack and the more it freezes the farther it goes down our way and it gets colder around -- the ocean -- the ocean cools down, the ice forms better -- form quickly.
But as long as you get a warm water, warm ocean, it's not going to freeze.
The polar pack moves, you know, clockwise rotation.
Some years you might have a lot of ice -- multiyear ice come through here, some years you don’t get of the thaw.
So we haven’t seen any multiyear ice around here for four or five or ten years. You might see a report of an iceberg off Wainwright like they did a couple of years in a row that sheared off from Canada -- Canadian waters.
It got grounded off Wainwright. Other than that we hardly see any multiyear ice that's been formed naturally.
They melt. And the ice is not as thick as it used to be.
You're lucky if you find three, four foot thick ice, young ice, when you go spring whaling that can take the weight of the whale when you pull it up.
It can take that tonnage. If not, you're going to have to take the head off and cut it twice.
So the makeup of the ice is very critical to our spring hunt, but with this global warming it's not coming in.
Like even right now, we should be dead of winter. It's warm outside.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it's like 20 degrees out.
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah, it should be -- and it should be in the negative. And it should be in the minus -- minus column.
So very unusual weather patterns we’re having, and the severity of the storms that are coming in is another matter because of the high winds.
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Do you think that's going to create similar ice conditions as we saw last spring or could it be totally different?
EUGENE BROWER: It's going to be different this spring. You haven’t seen any ice out here, just slush ice is being formed.
Nothing has been -- nothing has -- it has been so warm it's just slush ice that is being formed out in the ocean.
It's got to get colder -- way colder than what it is. Go in the negative category. Minus 10, minus 15, minus 20 for it to form right.
Right now we're still in the teens and it's above freezing.
KAREN BREWSTER: So if the ice doesn’t have enough time between November and April to get thick enough, because it's too warm and it's forming so late --?
EUGENE BROWER: It's forming so late and even -- even if it does form, it won’t be so thick that when your polar pack comes in the shorefast ice is going to be light. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Compared to the weight that's behind it. It's going to fracture it. It's going to crumple it. It might just take the whole shorefast ice out. You never know.
It was like last spring, you know we had that fractures -- I was -- the fractures that were made on the ice that was in front of Barrow and below Barrow.
There were just fractures from the west -- from the west wind that was the pressure of the polar pack.
Even when the wind shifted it never opened, but it pushed that shorefast ice around giving the -- giving us -- scaring the hell out of us. It wasn’t grounded.
So many people they waited and waited and we finally quit waiting and went up inland and went geese hunting.
KAREN BREWSTER: So because that shorefast ice was thinner the east wind could push it around, but -- EUGENE BROWER: No, the west wind.
KAREN BREWSTER: No, but to push it back out. What I was wondering is the pack ice is heavier than you're pushing this little thin ice and it can’t -- doest’t have enough force to push the heavy pack ice back out?
EUGENE BROWER: No, when you get the southwest winds, the polar ice will go into the shorefast ice. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: And have an ice override. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. And --
EUGENE BROWER: At the same time it'll push the ice above it because there's nothing anchoring it. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: You're just going shear -- it's floating.
So your pressure ridge has got to form early, close to the shore and work their way out.
That's what happened. We didn’t have any pressure -- real pressure ridges. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: From the open water to the mainland. And the pressure ridge is to hold it in place.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right, but so --
EUGENE BROWER: And when that ice did finally opened up, it was anchored.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right, so with the pack ice came in and pushed the unanchored shorefast ice around with -- between the pack ice and shore?
EUGENE BROWER: It'll push it up toward the mainland.
KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Okay.
EUGENE BROWER: It'll ivu right there by the shore. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Hopefully, it'll work its way out.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, I see and it didn’t work its way out.
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah. So it's very unusual weather we've been having in the weather patterns and the wind pattern from the -- It's been unreal.
KAREN BREWSTER: You were saying that now the ice is maybe only three or four feet thick. When you were a boy, do you remember how thick it was?
EUGENE BROWER: 10, 14, 15 feet thick yet. This time of the year it'd be frozen solid. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: The ocean would be frozen solid. People would be out there seal hunting.
You had multiyear ice that anchored in close to the shore from the fall storms. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: That helped the ice form. Where it won’t move around when it's forming.
The tidal surge -- wind surge is still anchored. It's grounded enough.
KAREN BREWSTER: So, that answered my question. My one question was why is multiyear ice so important?
EUGENE BROWER: It anchors the shorefast ice when the ice is being formed. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: It anchors the ice and makes it stationary where it can get thick.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, okay. And even if you have pressure ridges that are grounded, that’s not enough to anchor it?
EUGENE BROWER: If you got enough pressure ridges, it will hold it in place.
If you have a line of pressure ridges it typically is going to hold any shorefast ice from moving out.
The ocean -- you get the east winds, southeast winds the ocean drops.
It's pushing the -- the wind is pushing the water away.
And you will get the tidal surge when you get the west wind because the wind is coming up Bering Sea and floods -- opens up more water coming into the Arctic.
That's when we get that slight one foot, two foot tidal surge; enough to make changes on the ocean -- KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: -- in the formation of the ice. Because it's about a couple feet up and the pressure ridges are formed it's being pushed up, and the ice recedes they just drop and be anchored and they can’t go anywhere.
KAREN BREWSTER: Right. So have you seen a difference in pressure ridges being formed? Are there fewer pressure ridges?
EUGENE BROWER: There're fewer pressure ridges are being formed now, and the height of the pressure ridges are small.
You don’t have those three or four story high pressure ridges anymore. You just get maybe one, one and a half, maybe two stories high pressure ridges.
KAREN BREWSTER: And are they grounded?
EUGENE BROWER: Some of them are grounded. Maybe two stories high is four times more down on the bottom. So if it's 15, 20 feet deep, it's grounded.
KAREN BREWSTER: So I -- wasn’t -- I heard that last spring -- I thought there was like February or some things the ice out in front of Barrow moved out. That there was a big open water break out there.
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah, open water. There's nothing to hold it. You didn’t have any pressure ridges. It was nice smooth pan of ice that sheared off.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. And then did it refreeze?
EUGENE BROWER: It refroze over time. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Because we had a fracture on the ice -- a weak spot. Each fracture went out.
The ice density is not constant. It varies.
Some ice isn’t quite frozen the way it's supposed to be, so it's weak. So it drops, that's where the crack is going to be formed. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: It can’t hold that weight. It's just going to drop off.
KAREN BREWSTER: And then is that a weak spot for the whole season?
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because I was wondering -- so you have that opening happened in February or March, was there enough time for that ice to get thick enough for April whaling?
EUGENE BROWER: Well, between now and January and February hopefully we'll get some ice formed out there.
That's going to -- the coldest months of the year either January or February. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: It'll help freeze the ice -- the ice depth.
See the water's cooled off and is forming in the bottom. So hopefully we'ill get that.
KAREN BREWSTER: But with last year with that opening in February or March whenever it was --
EUGENE BROWER: That was unusual.
KAREN BREWSTER: It was too thin to go on in April?
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah, it got thick enough where you can go on it. Be cold enough where the ice was three, four inches thick, five inches, six inches thick.
And then the pressure ridge was formed kinda out in the front where it locked it in place and it couldn’t move so it took time to -- And then you have build up the ice thickness.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Is it right you put your trail in further south, right, off of Hollywood and out from there?
EUGENE BROWER: I used -- we used to go up north -- off NARL, but we got tired of the ice coming in so fast that we had to break up our camp and move up where it's safe ice.
You see, out toward NARL and toward the Point where the ice is -- the polar pack hits that area first -- the way the current moves.
That bring it right to that area. And when it's blowing from the west -- heading west it would be grinding along the shorefast ice and off NARL it start veering out.
So from Barrow or from NARL west you have open water.
That's why we moved our camp from where we normally go, off the end of the gravel pit or toward Nunivak -- you'd have open water there.
KAREN BREWSTER: You moved it just last spring for just that season -- EUGENE BROWER: No. KAREN BREWSTER: Or that’s your permanent change?
EUGENE BROWER: We changed about how many years ago? About five or six years ago or more.
I know my dad was alive when we moved -- ’92 we might have moved from there, west.
I tell him I’m tired of loading and go -- load and go -- load and go. I'm going to go west where you don’t have to -- you can just sit stationary and move maybe once in a great while depending on -- with the wind conditions and the ice conditions.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about farther towards Nuvuk towards the Point?
EUGENE BROWER: That’s very dangerous. You have a lot of current. That's where the strongest current hits, and it'll take a band of ice and bring it under the shorefast ice and it'll go right under.
And we’ve seen it happen in the past, and the current's so strong even a 25 horse outboard is not moving very fast going into the current.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EUGENE BROWER: That's how strong it is. You got to know what you’re doing if you're going to be up by the Point.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because it looks like the trails from last spring -- it looked like there were --
EUGENE BROWER: Oh a couple -- couple of whaling crews went out toward the Point beyond the Point. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: But it didn’t work out either.
KAREN BREWSTER: And that seemed unusual to me. I don’t remember -- ]EUGENE BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: -- them doing that as much.
EUGENE BROWER: They wanted to go outboard boating. You'll need outboards, but the conditions were such that the ocean and the wind dictated whether they could go out or not.
When the wind shifted, it's grinding right along the open water where they’re supposed to be whaling.
KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. So they went out there just because where they normally would go wasn’t working so they -- EUGENE BROWER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- were just trying --
EUGENE BROWER: Because the whole area was solid -- solid and closed. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EUGENE BROWER: But beyond the Point heading east toward Prudhoe was open.
KAREN BREWSTER: So everybody was just trying whatever they could?
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah. They were going ten miles out toward the Point and another six, seven miles to get out there you’re talking -- going 17 miles one way.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, that's a long way.
EUGENE BROWER: Uh-huh. So that's too far. But it's been done before. There in the -- but this year it's been unreal in the winter. Real warm.
Fall season, mostly a lot of times above freezing, but times going to tell. We don’t control the weather only the good Lord.
Is I've given you guys enough problems, it's time for me to get it cold so you can hunt the animals that I put there.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. EUGENE BROWER: To sustain your livelihood.
KAREN BREWSTER: I know you've done a lot of talking about global warming and thinking about it. What if this is the new norm?
EUGENE BROWER: Then we're going to have to adapt to the situation where we can’t really hunt in the spring. We’ll hunt in the fall.
And the festivities are going to change from the spring to the following spring to celebrate the successful hunt -- successful hunt.
KAREN BREWSTER: In the fall, you’d celebrate the fall -- EUGENE BROWER: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- hunt in the spring?
EUGENE BROWER: In the spring -- in the spring of the next year -- following year. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: We're going to have to adapt.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is there any chance you’d do spring whaling from the shore in a motor boat like fall whaling, if there's no ice?
EUGENE BROWER: Well, we're going to -- when we cross that bridge we’ll cross it. Right now the spring hunt is still using traditional whaling equipment. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: That'd be hard to swallow to go from the actual activity of being a -- of using a skin boat to the Lund boat to chase the whale, because that outboard makes a lot of noise in the water. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: So it's going defer the whale coming up because he's going to quickly head out to the polar pack. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Swim under the polar pack and just come to surface brief and go back underneath.
KAREN BREWSTER: I was thinking if there was no ice in the spring that's safe to be on if you -- well this last spring --
EUGENE BROWER: Then if it's not safe to put a camp on, how are you going to butcher the whale on the ice that can not sustain that weight? It would be wanton waste.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. Well, I was also wondering if you might change to what happened in June where there was a whale caught in June with open water?
EUGENE BROWER: That was a big one. They just happend to have their equipment and they went ahead and struck that whale that was old -- a hundred year old whale.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Tougher than hell.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you don’t see that becoming the norm?
EUGENE BROWER: No, it won’t be the norm. Them old whales are sometimes easy to kill, but also sometimes hard to kill, I'll say, if it's a female.
KAREN BREWSTER: So if you stopped spring whaling and just fall whaled, in the fall you can still get the smaller whales?
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah. We were very fortunate this spring -- this fall to land our quota. But they lost one and then we had transferred our four strikes. We landed 21 out of 22 whales.
KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, wow, that’s good and you got -- EUGENE BROWER: A very bountiful season here for Barrow.
KAREN BREWSTER: It made up for the bad spring.
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah. So Kaktovik was very good. They got all their whale. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Nuiqsut -- they got their whales, and Barrow did, and also Wainwright.
KAREN BREWSTER: The last spring even though the ice was different you still felt it was safe enough to go out?
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah, it was safe enough to go out. You just have -- the winds dictated where the open lead was going to be.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Sometimes that moving polar pack, you get a reflection of open water 15, 20 miles out, but you can’t get to it.
That's where the whales are migrating.
KAREN BREWSTER: And you can’t get to it because?
EUGENE BROWER: The ice is not grounded.
KAREN BREWSTER: In between?
EUGENE BROWER: And it can open. So why endanger your crew and the lives of other crews to go that far out.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.
EUGENE BROWER: That's when common sense take over. It's nice that you receive whale in the spring, but at what cost?
One life lost to me is one too many.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. Well, I've heard that there were some crews that chose not to go out this last spring because they felt it was --
EUGENE BROWER: Too dangerous. KAREN BREWSTER: -- too dangerous.
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah, and I applaud them for that. They made the right choice.
But also some of us were diehards who were hoping and praying that the ice would open up and it didn’t happen.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. So did you have your camp out there and you were waiting out there or were you waiting in town?
EUGENE BROWER: We waited out there. We had a camp out there by Nunivak.
Then they get tired they come home and go work. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: And they get the weather report and they go back out and reset the camp and wait again.
Nothing happens and they reload and go back to Barrow.
KAREN BREWSTER: So can you tell me about the trail building?
EUGENE BROWER: The trail building depends on where you're going to go spring whaling? KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Some people prefer to go out to toward NARL or out past Shooting Station.
Some whalers would like to go south or west down by the Monument or down by Hollywood.
It's about ten miles to the west of us. Some like to go three, four miles to the west of Barrow.
Some a couple miles out of Barrow. It's one’s preference of where -- how the ice -- the ice makeup and the metrics of the ice is -- the ice dynamics.
So hopefully you try to get a spot where the whales are going to come in. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: And hit your spot. Over time you get to pick and choose where you want to go.
We can’t pick anything right now because we don’t have any ice out there.
KAREN BREWSTER: So do you pick -- you pick your spot first and then you go and decide that the trail's going to go back to shore or do you --
EUGENE BROWER: You go out and look around. One or two guys will go out and look around and look at the makeup of the ice, the conditions of the ice, how it is.
Okay, this is -- we're going to make a trail go out to that point out here. Or there’s a cove with a point where the whales might surface. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: And then you go out and break your trail and hopefully they’ll hit your camp. Hit or miss and then you make adjustment.
Sometime you might have a perfect spot in your mind, but the whales are going to come up half a block; two, three, four hundred feet away from you. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Or 50 feet away from you. Constantly. It's not going to what you thought was going to be a perfect site for you to launch and strike a whale.
It can either be to the north of you or to the south of you, so you make your adjustment.
KAREN BREWSTER: So you pick up and move?
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah, you pick up and move. And we don’t know what the whales are looking at. When they see something they like they’ll surface through there.
It's always amazing where one surface. First whale you see surface there. The other whale migrating will surface in the same general area. All the time.
KAREN BREWSTER: Interesting.
EUGENE BROWER: I don’t know what the whales put out there, but maybe they leave a scent or leave a mark or something, but the whales go in the same general area.
Sometimes they’ll just follow the current maybe a quarter mile off the shorefast ice and just travel.
You’ll see them, but the winds are dictating and you can’t get to them because it's too windy.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: And hopefully they'll come to the shorefast ice and once one of them hit the shorefast ice, the other are going to follow. And that’s the pattern that we've seen over time.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is that one out front breaking trail and the other ones --
EUGENE BROWER: Uh-huh, they’ll follow.
KAREN BREWSTER: Follow it.
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Do you take into account the shape of the ice and is there certain features that are more likely to --
EUGENE BROWER: Well, you look at the -- you got the pressure ridges. Some small whales will like to come up to a pressure ridge with a little flat spot where they can just kind of like rest, pop and rest before they go on.
And then there are different pressure flat spots with a little cove that they might go in and dive underneath that.
And there are different things that you look at. You get different dynamics of ice that the people -- different whalers look at different things. And they got their preferences.
Mine is I like to have a preference when we have a pressure ridge either right behind me or in front of me with a flat kind of ice where the whale is going to come up.
And I know that the ice is safe because it's grounded on either side.
KAREN BREWSTER: By those two pressure ridges? EUGENE BROWER: Yeah.
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: So pressure ridges are not necessarily only advantageous for stability, but also for a good location where a whale might surface.
EUGENE BROWER: Yes. You know, you pick up things over time. It's seeing and doing that you learn by.
It's not a textbook education. It's all oral seeing and doing.
KAREN BREWSTER: And it's very obvious to me that it's the seeing -- to talk about what the ice looks like, to try to teach somebody without seeing it --
EUGENE BROWER: That's right. KAREN BREWSTER: I learned that very much from your dad when he would tell me things and I didn’t have the experience.
EUGENE BROWER: You have to visualize it. KAREN BREWSTER: -- to visualize it.
EUGENE BROWER: You visualize and see what it is they're talking about in order to comprehend what they're talking about. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: So it's -- the trail breaking is one, two, three boat crews that help break trail to go out to the same area.
They widen the trail and they work and the trail might take sometimes a week, sometimes three weeks depending on how far out the open lead is.
If it's two, three miles out and -- it's a lot of work to break a trail to get out through the pressure ridges and filling in the crevasses to make a trail.
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: So last year it wasn’t much open water, but the shorefast ice didn’t extend far out and the ice was pretty smooth, was that viewed as advantageous in a way?
EUGENE BROWER: No. Nothing -- there's no pressure ridge to hold it. It's going to crack.
So to me it -- for the first I've seen that much smooth ice and I said wow.
It's going to cause some problems down the road. And it did. It sheared out and developed fractures all over.
Anywhere you got a lot of fractures out there -- some are a foot wide -- some of them five feet wide -- some of them maybe 20, 30 feet wide.
And the people in the whaling crews said, "We ain’t going to cross this." I mean they’re cracking. Have a crack over here and it gets just a pivotal point that's just holding it, when she breaks free from that you’re floating.
KAREN BREWSTER: So did you guys -- did the crews stay away then from that big flat area?
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah, we went down there where there are pressure ridges.
KAREN BREWSTER: What about other crews?
EUGENE BROWER: Yean, there are crews in the flat spot. They had to get rescued. The Edwardsen crew. But they made it safe.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I was wondering when you talk about making a trail what you’re looking for where you make your trail.
I mean you want to get from the shore to where you want to put your camp. But you could -- How do you decide where your trail's going to go?
EUGENE BROWER: You mean how --?
KAREN BREWSTER: What type of ice you --?
EUGENE BROWER: I look at the pressure ridges. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.
EUGENE BROWER: Some people hate the pressure ridges because it's work. To me it's called labor of love.
It's grounded and you go right over it, smooth out the top, come down on the other end. Or you make a ramp to go up and go over and go on the other side, depending on where the flat spot is.
You can make your ramp up the pressure ridge, go on top, get eight to ten feet away, all the way down, fill it up, and come down again.
It's the safest road you're going to have. It's already been crumbled up and it's got -- it's like a jacksaw , it's fitted in places and it's not going to move.
KAREN BREWSTER: So when you're building a trail you're looking for those to connect between pressure ridges?
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah. That's what I was taught by my father. Pressure ridges is going to help you.
Might require a little bit of sweat and blood, but at the end if there's any emergencies out there then you got a pretty straight line and pretty safe.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. And crews still join together to build trails?
EUGENE BROWER: Oh, yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: Some years it looks like there's a lot of trails out there.
EUGENE BROWER: That's because you have a lot of -- you have 30 some odd whaling crews that are going out there, and some people go with one then veer off, while some people veer off either way depending on when they're scouting and look at the ice conditions.
Trying to find an ideal spot at where they think the whale's going come or surface.
KAREN BREWSTER: Sometimes you group camps close together at the end of the trail?
EUGENE BROWER: Oh, yes. Sometimes within 20, 30 feet.
KAREN BREWSTER: Because I look at some of those maps now and God there's a lot of trails, and I didn’t know if some of them are --
EUGENE BROWER: See back then -- back in the 40’s -- back in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s, you had less than 20 whaling crews.
Now you've got -- Barrow has registered captains between 32 and 42 spring whaling captains.
KAREN BREWSTER: That’s a lot.
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah, that’s a lot. So that's why you get a lot of trails out there. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Okay.
KAREN BREWSTER: How often does it happen that you build a trail that then you can’t use and you have to build another trail?
EUGENE BROWER: That has happened when the ice shear comes in and adds on, and it comes in where you think you made your camp and you have a pressure ridge, then you have another -- a mile of ice has been added to it and it's unsafe.
KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: So you have to go find another spot. So you go out and look and break another trail to get up to the open lead.
We've done that more than once.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is it different now than it used to be? Is that happen --
EUGENE BROWER: Oh, yes. KAREN BREWSTER: -- more than it used to?
EUGENE BROWER: No. No, not more than when it used to, but the spring -- or -- spring whaling is a little different because of the ice makeup.
The ice dictates how you're going to do it -- the current and the wind.
You'll hear that from the other captains also when you talk to them. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EUGENE BROWER: Same thing I’m telling you.
KAREN BREWSTER: I know, but we like to talk to lots of different people. EUGENE BROWER: Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: Everybody has a different story to tell.
EUGENE BROWER: Because of their experiences. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: Where they’ve been at.
KAREN BREWSTER: And everybody has valuable knowledge to share. EUGENE BROWER: Uh-huh.
KAREN BREWSTER: For sure.
EUGENE BROWER: Okay.
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: One short a little unrelated question. So our sea ice group, you know, is trying to provide information like the trail mapping and our radar imagery that is available on Web. Is any of that useful to you or is that --
EUGENE BROWER: Oh, yeah, it’s useful. DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Is there something that could be useful that you don't have?
EUGENE BROWER: Useful because it tells you the contour of the shorefast ice as it is formed over time.
When you look at that and also the trails of the different crews, you know where they are when they speak.
I’m at such and such a site and you know exactly quickly which way if they strike and land a whale in that area you just tell your crew this is the trail you take, and it'll take you to them.
It's very helpful. That radar imagery plus the trail mapping has been very helpful to the young whalers that --
and a lot of us that say okay where are you at? You say the Inupiaq location of the site the younger folks don’t even know where that is.
KAREN BREWSTER: Like what's an example of an Inupiaq location?
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah, Nunavamitunga. Nuparamitunga. Katchiqsumitunga. Ualiqpamitunga.
KAREN BREWSTER: So they're reference to place names on the coast?
EUGENE BROWER: Yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: Not place names out on the ice? EUGENE BROWER: No.
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Any other information you can think of that could be useful to -- ? EUGENE BROWER: Pardon.
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Any other information like if you have had access to current maps or ice thickness maps or, you know, something like that?
EUGENE BROWER: No, the ice thickness doesn’t really get you 'til you get out to the open lead or you get --
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: What about ice roughness, for instance?
EUGENE BROWER: Ice roughness it don’t hurt us one bit. We go through it anyway depending on where you want to go.
At first -- I just love pressure ridges because it's stable. Some people would say they're too much work. They try to find the easiest route to get out there.
You go out there and make a long detour to get out there. Where my father had said the shortest route is the safest route. Straight in straight out as much as you can get it.
And you’re load and go, that shortest route is going to save you where you're making a turn you could break off, and you're floating with the pan of ice. It's called labor of love.
KAREN BREWSTER: So if you had a map that showed you how thick the ice is, that wouldn’t matter to you?
EUGENE BROWER: No.
DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: What about a map of where there're pressure ridges or grounded pressure ridges?
EUGENE BROWER: I see them because I'm looking at it visually. DYRE “OLIVER” DAMMANN: Yeah.
EUGENE BROWER: A map ain’t going to do me any good. But the contour of the ocean or the open -- open water is in reference from Point Barrow to the Monument helps out a lot.
You know from the Monument instead of heading towards Franklin Point, depending on how far out the ice is off the Monument versus how far out the ice is in front of the gravel pit or the NARL area also dictates where the whales -- because the whales move from -- travel from point to point.
You have a point -- a point way out by Walakpka by the Monument, like two and three miles out, and it comes in about a mile then it slowly comes back out.
From that point, you're going to see the point of the polar pack.
KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. So they won’t come in to the shorefast?
EUGENE BROWER: No, they don’t make a quick right-hand turn to follow the shorefast ice. Whales migrate from point to point in a lot of instances.
I don’t know why, but that's the way it is. They go from point to point.
And sometimes the point may be so far out -- out here to the west of Barrow and it comes in three-quarters of a mile to a mile and slowly heads toward the Point and from that point it's just going straight forward.
All that open water, you’re out here. You’ll see a blows out there, but nothing close to you.
The whale doesn’t make that quick right-hand turn to follow the contour of the ice.
So the point -- so how it's formed to the west of Barrow plays an important role in your maps.
It being it tells us. You can also practially see the mirage where there's reflection of the white and the dark to the west of you, how the ice is formed.
It's like a mirror. The white shows where it's at and dark tells you the outline of the open water.
So that complements what we're seeing visually, in the map.
KAREN BREWSTER: I have one last question about traditional knowledge and the things you learned as a boy and a young man about what you look for in the ice and what's safe, and how you pass that on now. If the ice conditions are not the same as they were when you were learning, is that knowledge still useful?
EUGENE BROWER: Yes, still being passed on to my -- the younger folks.
KAREN BREWSTER: But is that -- that knowledge is still useful, the same knowledge?
EUGENE BROWER: Oh, it's still useful. In certain areas of the ice, you have those ice -- ice patterns that we talk about -- like the slush ice that's been crushed Muġałłiq.
KAREN BREWSTER: That’s Muġałłiq, okay.
EUGENE BROWER: You can fall right through it and the only way you can save yourself is if you have a walking stick you put in front of you put your weight on it.
A finely crushed ice. Very dangerous. You can veer off.
KAREN BREWSTER: So even though the ice is thinner, where it's forming later, you still have things like that.
EUGENE BROWER: Oh, yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.
EUGENE BROWER: And things you automatically look out for out there. I can’t describe them to you. To me it's just -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right.
EUGENE BROWER: Safe or not safe.
KAREN BREWSTER: Is there new information that you're learning with the ice changing that you pass on? Are there new things that you've had to learn?
EUGENE BROWER: No, my younger guys are now experiencing it and watching and looking at it. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.
EUGENE BROWER: And learning from it. We'll sit down and over coffee discuss what they’ve seen, what they've observed and then I will tell them what I've observed over my time, my life span, and the changes that have taken place out there.
Sometimes they have me draw the contour of the ocean or the ice -- different types of ice.
Or they say okay which way was this pressure ridge formed? From the north or from the west? Things that you can learn over time.
KAREN BREWSTER: So it's still the same knowledge?
EUGENE BROWER: The same knowledge. KAREN BREWSTER: Even though the conditions have changed?
EUGENE BROWER: The conditions are changing. It's best that they know what they've learned. The ice -- you have different -- made for different ice thickness. Where the ice is made up and you've got different names for it.
And it's best that they know those. A lot of names for that ice out there and the way it's formed.
KAREN BREWSTER: Have you run into new conditions that you've had to learn something new about?
EUGENE BROWER: No. It's just that it's forming later and it's not the same makeup of the ice that we used to hunt off of when I was young, in the last 40 years.
KAREN BREWSTER: But you still find ways to go out and be safe out there?
EUGENE BROWER: Oh yes. And I always tell them scout the ocean.
Don’t just go to one spot. Go north. Go in front of Barrow. Go west of Barrow.
Look at how the ice is formed when they make, build the pressure ridges, if there's any.
KAREN BREWSTER: Well, I hope next spring there're pressure ridges?
EUGENE BROWER: I hope so, too.
KAREN BREWSTER: Quyanaqpak. EUGENE BROWER: Uh-huh.