But the end of whaling was very different in the Bering Strait. Whaling did not build big cities there. And what might have been a breath of fresh air for native whalers amid the decline of trade missions was anything but. “The exit from the large-scale whalers’ presence occurs more or less simultaneously with the arrival of the large-scale colonial state,” Demuth said, including settlers from Russia and the United States. “People have described whaling to me as the first oil. Rush. “We went through one of those events when the whalers came in, but there was just one more string of these disruptive social and ecological events,” from the gold rush to oil.
While drilling has taken place in the region since 1902, the discovery of oil on the Kenai Peninsula in 1957, said Alaska’s first governor, provided “the economic rationale for statehood.” Companies like Shell, Chevron and Texaco flocked north, soon finding gas and new oil reserves that sparked a boom in fossil fuel infrastructure and settler populations. “Everyone who came here in the early 1950s probably came here for the farm,” an oil company employee told the local. Peninsula Clarion in 2017.
This extractive colonial legacy is now returning with a vengeance in the form of global warming. Northern Alaska is one of the fastest warming places on the planet. Declining sea ice threatens the livelihoods of the Iñupiat and Yupik – while making it easier for businesses to transport produce through the narrow Bering Strait as the world warms. “Bowhead whales have been hunted, but they didn’t have to deal with large-scale motorized traffic. Neither walruses nor seals. All these populations of marine mammals sing to each other all the time underwater, ”Demuth told me. Already, North Atlantic right whales are “disappearing in real time” thanks to collisions with ships and entanglements with commercial trawlers. “We don’t kill whales for the commercial market, but we could kill them with the commercial market.”
Against the myth of whale oil, the advent of oil did not save whales so much as it opened up new avenues for them to die. The end of whaling has been a long and slow process, driven as much by destructive overhunting as by the new possibilities of oil. And the transition alone has done little to mitigate the most destructive effects of trade on ocean ecosystems and indigenous livelihoods. The International Whaling Commission finally voted to ban commercial whaling in 1982, hoping to revive besieged populations. Ironically, Richard York points out, the prospect of increases whaling in the twentieth century. As the IWC restrictions seemed likely, he wrote, “the whalers, who had fixed capital investments in their whalers and other devices, had additional motivation to capture as many whales as possible before laws restricted their capacity. to do it.