TaGiuq , also known as “the ocean” in Inupiaq, greeted us with an energetic welcoming.

The view of the Northern Chukchi Sea from the R/V  Ocean Starr  on our first calm evening. Photo credit: Alicia Flores

The view of the Northern Chukchi Sea from the R/V Ocean Starr on our first calm evening. Photo credit: Alicia Flores

It’s a good thing I’m on a boat with a great bunch of people! Our journey to the northern Chukchi Sea started with anticipation as we departed from Nome on Friday, August 25th. We knew we were going towards a storm, so preparations were made, individually and ship-wise. I bought anti-sickness medication last minute, and I was thankful that I did. By Saturday, August 26th, we were on a continuous roll that would last until Monday or Tuesday. Going 4-6 knots on our ship built in 1964, it was decided we would start our survey work on Tuesday, for we needed to travel another 100 nautical miles or so.

Growing up near the beaches of the Arctic Ocean has prepared me for a voyage on the sea. Although I have never been this far in distance from the shore where I live, I feel a sense of familiarity. My life practically revolved around the migrations of the Bowhead whale and the preparations that had to be done for the subsistence harvest. To be depending on the ocean and its abundance of life allows me to feel respect for our TaGiuq  in that way.

The sea ice and its movements have always been a huge factor in my life. How long is the ice going to stay (near our shores)? Are the people we know and love safe hunting out on it? When will it arrive? Is the siku (ocean ice) going to break off early this year? How far is it out so we can hunt for walrus and seal? One of my favorite colors comes from the brilliantly blue turquoise ice block jutting out from the ice pack, glittering crystal clear.

From the wheelhouse of the R/V Ocean Starr, it gives me a whole new outlook. Traveling along with my fellow shipmates gives me a new sense of purpose in regards to the Chukchi Sea. From my perspective, it seems the years it takes to be adept in the scientific world is comparable to the time it takes to gain mastery of hunting and providing for your family. Being a part of the scientific community and learning as much as possible will hopefully allow me to give back to the environment I grew up in.

Our scientists spanning multiple disciplines of scientific research on our boat goes to show how complex the ocean can be under and above the surface. The ecology of the Chukchi Sea, although seemingly uninhabited when staring across the vast expanse of water, is actually exploding with life. I have so far learned tidbits of information ranging from the sea birds (quite impressively surviving hundreds of miles from the shore when seen flying around our vessel), the fish and marine mammals, and down to the microscopic organisms that provide the foundation of nutrient-rich resources that allows the marine food web to sustain. It may be shuddering cold outside because of where we are right now, but I am filled with warmth and gratitude to be able to partake in helping our TaGiuq and all those who depend on it.