The Great Grey Whale Rescue

As someone who survived the grey whale rescue in Barrow, I feel I should have some say on who gets to play me in the movie. Simply put, Angelina Jolie.

Hey, I could have looked like that once if I’d wanted.

Anyway, since one of the chronic complaints about outside media stories on Alaska is that no one ever gets the details right, let me offer the producers a few suggestions.

For starts, be honest about the reporters and film crews who came to Barrow. That means showing the looks on their faces when they first landed at the airport and found out just how desolate and cold the tundra looks that time of the year.

Follow that up with their horrified expressions as they realized that the hotel did not have a bar, and their even more horrified looks when they realized there were also no liquor stores in town. This theme should be augmented with a series of quick cuts showing these brave men of the media making frantic phone calls to staff who had not yet reached Barrow demanding that they bring up as many bottles of booze as would fit in their luggage and, if need be, dump the underwear to make room.

Here’s another part of the media frenzy that needs to be captured. It’s the part where, after a few visits out to the distant point where the whales were stuck, and a few minutes spent in the frigid night with the Arctic wind blowing off the ice, these gallant reporters decided there had to be a better way to get this story out to an American public bored to death by the lackluster presidential election pitting a sadly helmeted Dukakis against a grey patrician named Bush.

Though some tried to be conscientious, most quickly tired of the adventure of getting in a truck in sub zero weather and bouncing out on a fairly non-existent road to three lonely holes cut in ice and no guarantee the whales would be there when they arrived. It made the Dukakis-Bush campaign look downright inviting by comparison.

So after a few trips out to the site, these media stalwarts decided to send their technical crews out to film anything new that might be happening with the whales. Meanwhile they sat huddled in their rooms, sipping on whatever was brought up in their compatriots’ baggage. When it was time for them to film their daily report, they would walk outside to the beach next to the hotel. They’d position themselves so the only thing in the frame was the frozen, desolate beauty of the Chukchi Sea behind them with their perfectly coiffed hair almost hidden by the parka hood pulled up as tightly as possible against the ever blowing wind.

From that position they would give their report as though they were actually standing at the edge of the ice where the whales were trapped. As soon as the report was done, they’d dash back into the hotel and resume their previous activity.

Most people in Barrow were happy about the presence of the media. For one, anyone with a car who would bring them out to the whales was paid generously. For another, after living through the initial moratorium on subsistence whaling and reading articles calling them whale killers because they wanted to continue to follow their millennia long traditions, it was nice to get publicity that showed a more balanced picture of the compassion that was also part of their culture and lives.

The Inupiat hunt whales for survival. The whales give themselves to the Inupiat in an ageless rhythm of respect and mutual dependence. The respect of the Inupiat for the mammals that share their environment and ongoing battle for survival is great. Helping to save some stranded gray whales was just another part of the continuum.

And, to be perfectly honest, it was totally amusing to watch these reporters trying to film their piece while standing next to the hotel with the ocean behind them, the wind threatening to blow their helmet hair straight out to sea, and their voices shaking from the cold.

Hey, the dark season was closing in and when that time of the year rolls around, you take your amusement where you can get it.

The media greatly amused us.