6.3.1 Gambell

6.3.1 Gambell

A. Gambell Sample Profile (n=49)

In Gambell, interviews were conducted from July 2008 to February 2009. The sample was primarily comprised of males (see Table 3), 62% of which were between the ages of 36 and 55 (see Table 2). The respondents were generally long-time residents that possessed many years of harvesting experience. A majority (77%) have lived in the area for more than 30 years (see Table 5) and 76% have hunted or fished in the area for more than 21 years (see Table 6). When asked to describe how frequently they visited the location 74% reported going to the location ‘often’ or ‘very often’. Of the respondents, 84% reported they were not employed at the time.

Table 5. Years of residence in the community (n=49)

Length of Time  Frequency  Percent 
11-20 years 4 8%
21-30 years 7 14%
more than 30 38 77%
Total  49 


Table 6. Years hunted/fished in the area (n=49)

Length of Time  Frequency  Percent 
0-5 years 2 4%
6-10 years 1 2%
11-20 years 9 18%
21-30 years 13 27%
More than 30 years 24 49%
Total  49

B. Observed Changes in Environmental Conditions (n=49)

Observed changes in environmental conditions in the Gambell area were numerous and varied. Respondents were first asked if they had observed anything ‘unusual or rare in the environment’ at the location of their previous hunting/fishing trip. Then they were asked if they had noticed changes in specific categories of environmental conditions in the previous 10-25 years and to describe those changes in an open-ended format.

Of the respondents, 41% agreed that they had observed something ‘unusual or rare’ in the environment in the past 5 to 10 years at the specific location of their previous hunting/fishing trip.

In Gambell, many respondents had observed specific environmental changes in the previous 10-25 years. From most frequently mentioned to least, 84% noticed a change in ice conditions, 82% noticed a change in the timing of freeze-up, 71% noticed a change in air temperate, 67% noticed a change in snow, 65% noticed a change in the timing of break-up, and 61% noticed a change in storms (see Figure 15).

Figure 15. Percent of Gambell respondents who have observed some change in environmental conditions within the previous 10 to 25 years (n=49)

Specific observed changes in each category of environmental conditions varied somewhat, but some trends were apparent. The largest percentage of observed change was in ice conditions (84%). Gambell is icelocked during the winter months. Hunting for marine mammals, including whale, is affected by ice conditions, so it is not surprising that many respondents detected a change in ice conditions.

The following percentages are responses to open-ended questions, which state, ‘How has it (the environmental condition) changed?’ They are percentages of the whole sample (n=49) and because a person may note more than one change in an environmental condition (thin ice and less shore fast ice) the percentages don’t total the whole portion of observers of a given change.

Much detail was given about specific changes in ice condition. Of the respondents 49% reported less ice, 33% reported thinner ice, 16% reported unreliable or dangerous ice, and 12% reported change in shore fast ice. Other observations included rotten ice, an increasing predominance of young ice, unpredictable ice flows, and scattering of ice into smaller sheets.

  • “There’s less ice each year and it is getting thinner. It comes very late in the fall and goes out real early in the spring. Weather conditions have changed too. We used to have northerly winds. Now, in that season, we get more southerly wind. The wind is stronger and changes all the time. I’ve never seen this before in my life.”

In Gambell a majority (76%) reported freeze-up was later than usual, while 65% reported break-up as earlier. Many reported a change in air temperature with 76% describing it as warmer, while 8% noted greater fluctuation in air temperature.

Observations of snow conditions included less snow (47%), and 12% noted that there was less snow on the ground because it is blowing away. Of the respondents 16% noticed an increase in storm frequency, while 14% noticed an increase in the strength of storms.

Many respondents (33%) reported other changes that were not specifically addressed in the survey. These changes included erosion, melting permafrost, generally erratic and unpredictable weather, changes in the timing of seasons, early growing and dying of greens, fewer berries and changes in the magnetic north pole.

  • “There’s beach erosion. About 0 to 50 feet or more. The permafrost is melting. I’ve noticed this from the early ‘90s to the present.”

C. Abundance and Quality of Subsistence Resource (n=42)

In Gambell, a majority of respondents (69%) harvested seal and/or walrus (see Table 7). Salmon, bowhead whale, crab, tom cod, emperor geese and sheefish were also harvested by the respondents.

Table 7. Species of Fish/Marine Mammal Harvested (n=42)

 Species    Frequency    Percent  
 Salmon  1  2%
 Walrus, Seals  29  69%
 Bowhead Whale  1  2%
 Crab  2  5%
 Tom cod  1  2%
 Emperor geese  1  2%
 Multiple species  6  14%
 Sheefish  1  2%
 Total    42  

Answers to open-ended questions revealed that many respondents (30%) believe there are fewer walrus and/ or seals in the area.

  • “There are less game every year”
  • “There are less seals. From time to time marine mammals change their habitats depending on food source, noise pollution.”
  • “There were more seals ten years ago”

Many (26%) also noted the animals were farther out and/or harder to get to.

  • “The hunt has arrived later and left earlier, so we have less time to hunt.”
  • “There are big changes. It’s warmer. Next month should be real cold. The seals are leaving early because the ice goes out early. They’re going up north. Used to be able to hunt till June.”
  • “The walrus [migration pattern has changed]. They’re getting farther and farther away. They hang out on the ice pack.”

The harvests overwhelmingly yielded healthy looking animals/fish. When asked if the previous harvest trip yielded any animals/fish with visible disease 88% replied that it did not. The reports of diseased animals included:

  • Walrus catch:
    • “Green color under the skin, looked sick.”
  • Walrus/seal catch:
    • “Some animals are skinny”
    • “Rotten teeth. Some had less weight.”
  • Seal catch:
    • “Bump on the seal’s back”

In Gambell, locations of the previous harvest trip were described as reliable by 86% of respondents. The reliability of these locations is reflected in responses to a question about future harvest events. Of the respondents, 76% reported that they would return to the same location to harvest the same species on future trips, although 98% reported that they had no idea how much they may catch.