The temperature was 26 degrees Friday morning for Barrow, Alaska, at the northern tip of the North American continent, some 4 degrees warmer than in the coastal port of Anchorage 670 miles to the south.
Geoff Carroll, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, was lamenting the fact it was messing up his fishing. Not because it was too cold in Barrow, but because it was too warm. Carroll is usually catching fish through the ice by now. Not this year, he said. The ice is so thin it is dangerous to venture onto local waters.
How odd is this? Well, consider one fact: Twenty-four years ago on about this date, national news network crews swarmed all over the ice outside of Barrow, caught up in a story about the plight of three gray whales trapped there. The so-called whale “rescue” — there is no evidence the whales actually survived, though a Soviet icebreaker did eventually manage to lead them out of sight of Barrow — eventually became the subject for a Hollywood movie, “Big Miracle,” released just this year.
The trapped whales were discovered Oct. 7 by Barrow hunter Roy Ahmaogok, who noticed them as he rode past on his snowmachine. The ice around them was so thick that chainsaws were needed to cut through when the first attempts were made to find the whales a path to open water still visible offshore.
By Oct. 15, word was out the whales were trapped in the ice, and the world beat feet to Barrow. Reporters from national television networks joined those from Anchorage and elsewhere in America’s most northerly town. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration sent officials from Alaska’s largest city and whale experts from the West Coast to the scene.