Only Bones Remain Of Kuskokwim Gray Whale

Aug 1, 2017

Locals work to divide the muktuk and meat of the gray whale pulled from the Kuskokwim River on July 29, 2017. The carcass sank after hunters shot and harpooned it on July 27, 2017.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

Parts of the gray whale taken near Napaskiak on Thursday are traveling up and down the region. 

Napaskiak Tribal Administrator Sharon Williams says that she knows a family from Akiak that got some whale meat and muktuk, and that some of the whale went as far as Mekoryak. She doesn’t know how many people total will get a taste of the animal.

“I want to say millions," said Williams. "This went up all the way, up and down the Kuskokwim. That’s why I am saying millions."

The gray whale, which sank to the bottom of the Kuskokwim after being shot multiple times, reappeared Saturday when gases from decomposition filled the carcass, lifting it off the river bottom and pushing it to the surface. Villagers hauled it to the banks, and then the cutting and dividing began, continuing through Saturday night.

“They had a bonfire to keep the mosquitos and bugs away, but they were still taking meat off in morning time,” said Williams.

By Monday, all that was left were some bones. Williams says that people are researching how best to care for the skeletal remains. Some have been advised by Alaska Natives along the coast to bury the bones for a couple of years to let nature clean them.

“Then, if people want to use them for carving," said Williams, "they can take them out after two years.”

On Sunday, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials arrived in Napaskiak to take a sample of the meat and talk with village leaders about the incident.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is conducting an investigation, because gray whales are a protected species. Taking them legally requires a waiver from the federal government.