On a recent weekday 44-year-old Merle Apassingok captained his father's sailboat, hunting bowhead whales in the falling snow off the coast of St. Lawrence island. His nephew, Agra, labored to bail water the way Apassingok had as a boy.
"I was telling my crew, I said, 'Hey Agra, you're probably the only 9-year-old boy in the whole world sailing for whales in a walrus skin boat,' and then we started laughing," Apassingok said.
The joke was on them. Nearby, Apassingok's younger brother hunted in yet another handmade skin boat, where yet another 9-year-old crew member was learning the same skills.
It's springtime in the coastal villages of the Alaska Arctic. As it has for generations, that means whaling season.
Crews have begun preparing for the hunt or have already hit the water along the North Slope and St. Lawrence Island, less than 40 miles from Siberia in the Bering Sea.
In Barrow, some of the 40 registered whaling captains have put their crews to work breaking trail, clearing a path to an open lead in the sea ice, said Eugene Brower, president of the city's whaling captain association. As of Sunday, two crews were out looking for whales, he said.
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