When Roswell Schaeffer Sr. was 8 years old, his father decided it was about time he started learning to hunt beluga whales. Schaeffer was an Iñupiaq kid growing up in Kotzebue, a small city in northwest Alaska, where a healthy store of beluga meat was part of making it through the winter. Each summer, thousands of these small white whales migrated to Kotzebue Sound, and hunts were an annual tradition. Whale skin and blubber, or muktuk, was prized, not only as a form of sustenance and a trading commodity, but also because of the spiritual value of sharing the catch with the community.
Now, nearly seven decades later, Schaeffer is one of only a few hunters who still spend the late weeks of spring, just after the ice has melted, on Kotzebue Sound, waiting for belugas