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 Inupiat Eskimos on Alska''s North Slope have follwed 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 whem for nearly thirty years and the mysteries of these large creatures never fail to amaze him.
As a scientist, Craig asks many questions about the creature he studies, questions about their behavior, morphology, population issues, lifespan, migration patterns. Some things he can learn by studying measurements of whales. Others he learns by dissection and comparison. But there are lots of things that Craig doesn''t know, and doesn''t yet understand: Where do they go in the winter? How much food do they need to survive? Do they really live 150 years? Do they grow and grow until they die, or do they reach a physical maturity? How is global warming affecting them? Craig studies the bowhead whale year round. He lives in and raises his family in Barrow, Alaska, because he has to be where the whales are - there is simply no other way to do it. He also needs to be with the Inupiat people, whose traditions and age-old relationship with the whales makes them the foremost experts on them.
Readers will join Craig, his wife, their colleages, and the Inupiaq people as they go out on the ice and harvest whales. The pictures are not always easy to look at, but the Inupiat people revere the whale and have depened on its meat and blubber for centuries to live in this harsh climate. They bless each whale that comes in, and don''t leave a bit of whale to waste. And they trust the Craig will do his part to learn more about these whales, and to help protect them with the information he does learn. Readers will go back to Craig''s ramshackle lab where he studies various organs and body parts, takes careful measurements, and crunches numbers. There are no hard and fast conclusions here. There is just a scientist who loves the animal he studies, and who loves gathering information about this animal, year in and year out. The Inupiat, too, are people who you will not soon forget. Their excitement and enthusiasm over a whale harvest, and their reverence and understanding of the bowhead whale, as well as the numerous varieties of ice that surround them, will show readers just how in tune they are with thir surroundings.
This latest entry in the Scientists in the Field series is a real profile of what it is like to be a scientist who lives where he works, who harvests his own subjects, and who uses 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 the Craig grew up in a household where nature and human interaction went hand in hand. Author Peter Louries''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.