May 13: Farewell Feasts and Whalemeat


The road to the Barrow Arctic Research Center lab looking muddier at the end of our stay than it had when we’d arrive. Spring has come to the Arctic! Photo by Carie

On one of our last days, the lab staff invited us to a muktuk feast, which they had prepared from whale meat that Scotty, the lab mechanic, had from being part of a whaling crew. After a prayer of thanks, they told us what was what: first, traditional frozen, raw muktuk from the previous season: about an inch-thick piece of whale skin and blubber; second, a cooked version of the same from fresh meat from the whale just caught; third, steaks of whale tongue. We were given seasoning mix to flavor it, a traditional rounded ulu knife to cut it, and warned to not eat too much, because it can be hard on the stomach of the uninitiated. I had a piece of each, and found it all delicious.

Muktuk feast at BARC

Our muktuk feast at BARC. Photo by Shelly

Heed the warnings, friends, should you ever have the honor of getting to try muktuk. In addition to the stomach discomfort that hit one of us nine hours later, we found out that whale farts are real, and something to be feared. This is a real conversation that took place in our lab:

“Are those samples anaerobic? They smell like methane.”

“Ummm… I think that was me. Sorry.”

“No, you couldn’t smell like that! It must be the samples. Let me smell.”

“The samples smell like nothing. I think I’m still digesting the whale.”

“Oooooooohhhhhh. Ha!”




Mmmmm, blubber. The lighter-colored part is all fat, and would jiggle while we stood around and ate. Photo by Carie

Thankfully we all survived both the muktuk (no regrets, it was delicious and a special experience) and the aftermath (a “special” experience). My incubation experiments suddenly started showing signs of life (despite the closed coldrooms where the experiments were taking place having been declared a whalefart-free zone for the sake of safety). The filtering and aliquotting got successfully wrapped up. Team microscopy cranked through a few more samples to get a solid representation of what we had collected. We had finished a successful field expedition and collected nearly every sample and measurement on our wishlist. We had done truly fantastic science.

Shelly in lab

Shelly, taking some final notes in the lab. Photo by Julianne

Casted horizons

Some casted ice horizons wrapped up like presents at the end of the May lab effort. Photo by Carie

We spent the final few hours in lab packing and cleaning, stowing sensitive equipment and supplies for our return in June. Then we had a final group dinner together in the cafeteria where the cafeteria staff gave us a raucous farewell complete with loud music, belly-laughs, more chocolate cake, and being told that we had been codenamed the “Diatomaceous Divas”.

High fives all around, Diatomacous Divas. We rocked it this May. See you back on the ice in June! (and back in the lab and office until then)


Crocheted mascot

Our mascot, a gift from Julianne’s sister, watching over us. Photo by Carie

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