Whaling Season: A Year in the Life of an Arctic Whale Scientist

Whaling Season: A Year in the Life of an Arctic Whale Scientist

by Peter Lourie
     
 

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It's late April in Barrow, Alaska, which is about as far north in Alaska as you can get.  The call comes in over the two-way radio - a crew has caught the first whale of the spring whaling season.  Men, women, and teenagers jump on snow machines and drive out onto the ice to help harvest the whale, a tradition the Inupiaq Eskimos on Alaska's North

Overview

It's late April in Barrow, Alaska, which is about as far north in Alaska as you can get.  The call comes in over the two-way radio - a crew has caught the first whale of the spring whaling season.  Men, women, and teenagers jump on snow machines and drive out onto the ice to help harvest the whale, a tradition the Inupiaq Eskimos on Alaska's North Slope have followed for over two thousand years. John Craighead George, or Craig as he's called, heads out too.  He is an Arctic whale scientist, and out on the ice with the whales and the whalers is just one of the places where an Arctic whale scientist works. He and his colleagues have an agreement with the Inupiat to study these whales, bowheads. He has studied them for nearly thirty years and the mysteries of these large creatures never fail to amaze him.

This installment in the Scientists in the Field series takes readers along with Craig, his wife, their colleages, and the Inupiat people as they go out on the ice and harvest whales.  Lourie also details the happenings in Craig's ramshackle lab where he studies various organs and body parts, takes careful measurements, and crunches numbers. This is a real profile of what it is like to be a scientist living where he works, harvesting his own subjects, and using information passed down from generations of Eskimo culture to help him as he becomes the world's leading expert on bowhead whales.  Craig George is the son of legendary children's author Jean Craighead George, and it is easy to see that Craig grew up in a household where nature and human interaction went hand in hand.  Author Pete Lourie's stunning photographs will transport readers to the top of the world, where the days and nights are long, the people respectful, and the whales are at the center of it all.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Barbara L. Talcroft
It's April in arctic Alaska and whale scientist John Craighead George is off with his "harvest kit" to collect organs from the first kill of the season by Inupiaq hunters. Part of the "Scientists in the Field" series, this book explores "Craig's" work on bowhead whales and his relationship with the Inupiat who have hunted them for thousands of years. Readers will learn that the bowhead, a docile baleen whale that lives in upper Arctic waters, was once nearly extinct, but since the end of commercial whaling, the Alaskan populations have recovered, numbering about 10,000 whales; the Inupiat have permission to "harvest"—the word kill is seldom used—a certain number each five years to continue their traditional way of life. Life there is rugged: hunters must hack trails in the snow and rig pulleys to haul the carcasses out of the water. Each family gets a share of the blubber and meat of whales killed in both spring and autumn. Exceptionally interesting is a chapter about bowheads; for example, they are now thought to be the longest-lived mammals in the world. Color photos of the whales and the Arctic landscape are striking, though for young environmentalists who love these gentle creatures, pictures of hunters slicing into their bodies and bloody hands digging into bright red organs will be disturbing. Still, readers gain an understanding of Craig's scientific work and his deep respect for the traditional knowledge of people who have known the whales longest. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft
VOYA - Marilyn Brien
Native Inuit Eskimos consider themselves the People of the Whale. The harvesting of whales is a significant part of their culture. This series book follows an Arctic whale scientist in Barrow, Alaska, throughout the year as he participates in the traditional harvesting of the bowhead or Greenland right whale by the Inuit. He takes samples, studies migration routes, and monitors the numbers and health of these whales. The traditional whalers and scientists cooperate to maintain both the culture and a sustainable population of the whales. The whaling crews use small boats, harpoons, and smaller tools to harvest the whales in the spring and fall as the whales make their way to the northern summer feeding grounds in the Arctic waters and then return to the Bering Sea for the winter. About half of the book consists of colored photographs. Some of these are of Craig (the scientist), his laboratory, his home, and his family. Others are photos of the Eskimos engaging in a variety of activities. Many of these photos, however, depict various stages of harvesting and butchering the whales that are very graphic, bloody, and possibly unsettling for some students. This reviewer was more impressed with the interesting story that merges traditional culture and science, but could have done without many of the photographs. A librarian might want to consider the experiences and ages of students in whether it is an appropriate book for the library. Reviewer: Marilyn Brien
School Library Journal
Gr 4–8—Lourie skillfully describes the delicate three-way relationship that exists among the Iñupiat of Alaska, the bowhead whales, and the scientists who are there to collect data and study the animals. The Iñupiat have hunted bowheads for thousands of years and their very existence depends upon the harvesting of the leviathans. The scientists are there to determine whether the whaling done by these communities is sustainable and not decimating the bowhead population. Using a day-in-the-life format, Lourie follows one particular scientist, John Craighead George, as he goes about collecting the necessary data. The biologist is careful not to disturb the integrity of the harvest and, in fact, works closely with the Iñupiat to do what he needs to do. Interwoven throughout this daylong saga are historical information, scientific facts, and cultural tradition. Crisp color photographs on every page provide a lush complement to the engaging, informative text. Young readers will come away with a stronger appreciation of the bowhead whales, the people who both hunt and respect them, and the scientists who straddle the traditional and modern worlds to gather important information. An excellent addition to any collection.—Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA
From the Publisher
"Combining exemplary color photos and simple, vivid language, the chapters detail not only George's day-to-day methodology, but also his motivation: to explore "the mystery of the whales"—all the things that remain unknown about the animal."—Booklist, starred review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780618777099
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
11/23/2009
Series:
Scientists in the Field Series
Pages:
80
Product dimensions:
9.10(w) x 11.10(h) x 0.60(d)
Lexile:
NC1150L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Peter Lourie is an author and photographer. He has published more than twenty books for young readers. He lives with his family in Vermont.

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