The Inupiat people of the Arctic Coast have lived off the bounty of the Arctic Ocean since time immemorial. Today, communities continue to practice subsistence traditions, harvesting a significant amount of food from the ocean and land. These practices are essential to Inupiat people’s identity and culture. For many residents of the Arctic, there is a direct connection between the continued health of the Arctic Ocean and the health of their food supply and culture.The preparation and act of harvesting animals and fish from the ocean is a year-round practice and deeply spiritual. One bowhead whale can feed an entire village for a whole year.
Climate change is a direct threat to the traditional way of life. The warming trend in the Arctic affects the traditional lifestyle in numerous ways, for example: thinning sea ice makes it more difficult to harvest bowhead whales, seals, walrus and other traditional foods; warmer winters make travel more dangerous and less predictable; and, later-forming sea ice contributes to increased flooding and erosion along the coast, directly imperiling many coastal villages.
In addition, the intense noise of seismic exploration and drilling is pushing marine mammals farther out to sea. According to the National Academy of Sciences and reports from Inupiat subsistence hunters, drilling has already changed the migratory patterns of bowhead whales by as much as 30 miles.
Offshore drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas threatens the way of life of the Inupiat people. There is no technology available to clean-up an oil spill in Arctic conditions. With the nearest Coast Guard station more than 1,000 miles away, coastal communities worry they will not be able to respond to an oil spill should one occur.