After the Whale Hunt, the Cooking Begins The Inupiat people of Alaska's North Slope have hunted whales for centuries. Last month the spring whaling season began. After the men hunt, the women of the village cook more than 30 tons of whale meat.
NPR logo

After the Whale Hunt, the Cooking Begins

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
After the Whale Hunt, the Cooking Begins

After the Whale Hunt, the Cooking Begins

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


In Barrow, the northernmost community of North America, spring whaling season kicked off late last month. Rebecca Sheir of the Alaska Public Radio Network was there.

REBECCA SHEIR: On a spring afternoon in Barrow, the temperature outside is a wind-chilly 15 below. But inside the garage of Captain Jacob Adams' house, it's downright steamy. You can barely see the iron pots and plastic buckets scattered across the floor. Each container is filled with the meat and muktuk, or blubber, from the village's first bowhead whale harvest of the season.

Ms. MARGARET OLEMAUN(ph) (Capt. Adams' Daughter): We cook the unalik(ph), which is the boiled muktuk, the kidney, which is the taqtu(ph), the tongue, which is the uqaq(ph), and the (Inupiaq language spoken), which is the intestine.

SHEIR: Margaret Olemaun is Capt. Adams' oldest daughter. Nearly 24 hours ago, Adams' crew struck the 32-foot, three-inch bowhead and butchered it on the ice. Now, Olemaun and other Inupiaq women are finishing the job.

In spite of the heat, the women wear jeans and hooded sweatshirts. Sweat docks their upper lips and drips down their foreheads as they drop brown, red and black chunks of raw whale into boiling water. Olemaun slices a hunk of meat with a rounded blade of a traditional ulu knife. She shows the bright red flesh to Diane Adams Martin(ph), one of the captains' sisters.

Ms. OLEMAUN: (Inupiaq language spoken) Is that good now, Diane?

Ms. DIANE ADAMS MARTIN (Capt. Adams' Sister): (Inupiaq language spoken). Maybe a little bit more.

SHEIR: As the meat cooks further, Olemaun uses a fib(ph), shaped like a badminton racket, to skim off what she calls the slop(ph).

Ms. OLEMAUN: That's part of the blood that comes out of the meat when you're boiling the meat. And once we're all done cooking, we get it all ready to serve to the community. They'll pray inside the house. After they've blessed the food, they can come over and eat.

SHEIR: Once the meat is done, the women will bag up individual portions for this evening's community feast. They'll distribute more of the whale in the summer and again, at Thanksgiving and Christmas. In the end, the community will consume roughly 80 percent of the 32-ton whale. The rest, mainly bone, will be brought back to the sea.

Martha Stackhouse(ph), Capt. Adams' cousin, says this tradition of giving to the community actually begins with the whale itself.

Ms. MARTHA STACKHOUSE (Capt. Adams' Cousin): This whale actually gave itself and that's our belief. It came right to them. They didn't go - have to go far. So it gave itself to the hunters.

SHEIR: Stackhouse has been taking part in whale harvest her entire life. Now, she's passing on the tradition by helping her daughter, Klunin(ph), spoon chunks of muktuk into a bucket.

Ms. STACKHOUSE: Yeah. But my daughter, she puts too much muktuk. So now she knows not to put so much. You just learn by watching.

SHEIR: Watching over the proceedings all day is Diane Adams Martin. She is the most experienced cook in the room.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHEIR: Martin giggles as she dips a spoon into an overflowing pot of tongue, but her eyelids are drooping. The women have been cooking for nearly 12 hours and many including Martin, were up all night baking biscuits and Eskimo donuts or frybread, but she says she doesn't mind.

Ms. MARTIN: It's always exciting to hunt whales. Even though we're tired, but we still have that joyous feeling.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MARTIN: Excitement feeling.

SHEIR: For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Sheir in Barrow.

(Soundbite of music)

YDSTIE: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.