Because of the increased travel distance, only families with larger boats were able to participate in the hunt and bring back enough to make the trip cost effective. With a heavier load in the boat, one family ran out of gas trying to get home and had to be rescued.
Observation by Janet Mitchell:
The ice was completely gone by the end of May. We're normally still whaling on the ice in May but it was gone. It never came back. So our hunters had to travel over 50 miles towards Pt. Hope, Alaska to hunt the bearded seals and only those with large boats were able to do the hunt. And to make it easier on themselves, to make it more cost effective, the hunters had to load as much as they can in their boats before returning to Kivalina. They had to stay out in the ocean for two to three days to collect enough seals for their families. A lot of families are not so fortunate because they have only small boats. My own family brought home eight bearded seals and one walrus in the 22 foot fiberglass boat. They had to be rescued. They ran out of gas with all that heavy load in their boats. Climate change is wreaking havoc on our subsistence way of life. A lot of folks can't afford to hunt anymore. This is not "unusual," this is crazy.
Rick Thoman, Climate Scientist with the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, writes:
Sea ice in the southern Chukchi Sea and Kotzebue Sound fractured during the stormy weather in February and never recovered, being thin and mobile the rest of the season. Daily ice extent in the Chukchi Sea this spring has been the lowest of record most of the time since early May, even lower than 2018.
Anna Godduhn Subsistence Resource Specialist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, writes:
We have heard similar kinds of comments for years, although these are especially extreme. I have been working on a nonsalmon fish project around the YK delta coast—even during those focused surveys we got comments about poor access to seals because of poor ice conditions. Weak ice hinders fishing as well, both in spring and in fall, but not like hunting – on land and especially marine. I’ve interpreted some unspoken implications that fishing will be more important because of it, but uncertainty there, too. Nonsalmon fish caught under and through the ice are important fresh foods and great recreation, but, generally, not nearly as critical to food supplies as seals and caribou.
Comments from LEO Editors:
This observation has been forwarded to the Office of Environmental Health at Maniilaq Association, and to the ADFG Division of Subsistence.
In 2019, LEO received several observations of diminishing ice quality. Observers in Shishmaref observed early open water on January 27, 2019. Warm weather in the Norton Sound area during February caused early leads to appear in the ice near Nome. In March, the shore-fast ice near Nome broke off, causing miners and crab fisherman to lose expensive equipment. Wales also lost shore-fast ice in March, causing problems for residents who rely on the stable ice for hunting. Erica Lujan