Watchlist: Experience a traditional whale hunt in Alaska

09.14.2021 Kamiah Koch Watchlist


By Kamiah Koch

Social Media/Digital Journalist

With 18.4 million subscribers on National Geographic’s YouTube channel, sharing a video on traditional Native whale hunting in Alaska is bound to get some views.

“Prayer for the Whale” is a nine-minute film posted on Nov. 27, 2018, as part of the Short Film Showcase, a collection of short “captivating” videos selected by National Geographic’s video team.

The video in an immersive experience following the Inupiat people as they hunt for whales. The only audio is the words of an Elder expressing gratitude for the whale, singing and the sounds of the harsh northern Alaskan sea ice.

The documentary-style video shows the Native whalers sitting at the water’s edge, patiently waiting in freezing temperatures for the whales. Conditions do not look comfortable as their shelter is constantly blowing in the wind and a polar bear begins to stalk nearby. At one point a commotion occurs and the polar bear is killed.  

The Native hunters are constantly watching the horizon for the whales to breach. The actual killing is never shown, but in the next shot a whale is seen floating lifelessly. They impressively bring the whale up on to the ice by hand and with the help of the entire community.

The video has beautiful images of life on ice. A bird’s-eye-view camera shot shows how they process the gray and red pieces of the whale against the white ice.

The video ends with the community sharing a meal and celebrating the harvest that will feed them through the winter.

“Prayer for the Whale” shows a way of life not many have seen. The video garnered almost 2 million views on YouTube since its publication.

To watch the video yourself, you can go to or find it linked on the Smoke Signals Watchlist playlist on the Smoke Signals YouTube channel.