Gordon Brower has been hunting bowhead whales for most of his 47 years, forgoing lifejackets because no one made them in white, the only color that works as camouflage on Alaska's icy arctic coast.
Now the whaling captain from the nation's northernmost town of Barrow and other Eskimo whalers have begun to wear personal flotation devices, custom-made in the white they've traditionally used to make them more invisible to their massive prey.
When the subsistence whaling season arrives this spring, more Alaska Native hunters from coastal villages will be outfitted with the white "float coats" being distributed through a safety program that debuted last year...
...Mike Folkerts, a recreational boating safety specialist with the Coast Guard, was participating in a mission to Barrow in 2009 when he noticed the town's main grocery and general store had no lifejackets for sale. Local whalers told him lifejackets were too bright and would scare away the animals. He asked if they would wear the jackets if they were available in white. The hunters said sure.Now, I'm not totally convinced that the camouflage is completely necessary for whale hunting. I doubt whales need much more clue than the boat, and I doubt they see the coat through the reflective water surface and the hull. I also doubt that paint on the top of top water plugs is seen by the fish, but I buy them anyway.
Folkerts called a couple of companies, including Mustang, which sent prototype samples. He then showed the samples to the whalers.
"They loved them," Folkerts said...
...The Coast Guard can't buy equipment to give to the public, so Folkerts turned to the tribal health consortium. The organization tapped $12,000 of its own funds and ordered 52 coats from Mustang, distributing them among whalers in Barrow and two other villages...Those nasty oil companies, interfering in the life of those benighted Inuit, again, forcing them into the modern age.
...For the upcoming whaling season that begins in April when bowheads are heading north, the consortium is distributing 96 coats among crews from the remaining villages that are members of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, which represents 11 communities. Four crews, including Brower's, will get the float pants.
The funds for this year's effort came from a $15,000 donation from Shell Oil and almost $11,000 from ConocoPhillips, one of the oil producers on Alaska's North Slope, home to some whaling villages. Shell has offshore oil exploration projects in the region...
I am a firm believer in personal flotation for boaters in any instance. Personally, I have a "float coat" for cold winter boating, and an automatic inflation model (Sospenders) for warm weather, and I wear one or the other every time I go out. My" float coat" is a Sterns, but there are several manufacturers (Mustang comes to mind as an alternative) The "float coat" is wonderful. It's warm when you need it, and protection if you do something stupid. I urge anyone who does cold water boating to buy one. The only problem with mine is that is smells like fish. I can't imagine why: