This weekend kicks off the Qaġruq Whaling Festival in Point Hope. Every year, people come from around the region for a three-day feast to celebrate the annual subsistence haul of the whaling season.
Rex Rock Sr. says he’s been whaling his whole life. The 60-year-old Point Hope captain says this year’s whaling season kicked off in early spring.
“Early April we went out,” Rock said. “The lead was further out this year.”
Rock explained the lead is the term for the crack in the sea ice that hunters follow to track the whales. He says this year’s lead was about seven miles outside town.
“We were able to get there,” Rock said. “I was happy that Russell and JJ Lane were able to land the first whale. They always say once you strike and land the first whale, everything else is going to fall into place.”
Point Hope whaling captains ended up landing 11 bowheads this year, a great year in Rock’s book.
With the hauling period over, Point Hope is preparing for the three-day Qaġruq Whaling Festival. Rock says over the first two days, captains will haul the whaling boats up and show off their crews flags before cutting up the whale for the large communal feast.
“First is what we call qalgi, the second day the avarriqirut, and then the third day we have an all-day cookout,” Rock said. “So we invite everybody to come up and sample all the food that we’ve been blessed with this spring.”
For many Inupiaq residents of Northwest Alaska, this year’s Qaġruq will be the first major community event since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
“I don’t think it feels much different,” Rock said. “Because we feel blessed when we go out to whale and provide for our community. Not only our community, but cousins in the outlying villages. Definitely we share the whale with everyone, everyone that wants a taste.”
Qaġruq begins on Sunday and will conclude Tuesday evening.