|In 1848, the first whalers from Europe and the United States made their way north to the rich Alaskan waters to hunt for whales. By 1852, more than 220 whaling ships were working in the Bering Strait, Chukchi Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Weather and ice could be treacherous. Between 1852 and 1876 as many as forty four ships were lost. The tremendous harvest in the Pacific, and northern waters changed the whaling industry. In the 1880s the center of the industry moved from New Bedford Mass., to San Francisco. In 1884 the first shore -whaling station in Alaska was established at Point Barrow. At the turn of the century, whaling stations were set up all along the coast of Alaska. Two were established in Southeastern Alaska and four in South central. The West Coast from the Aleutian Chain to Point Barrow contained the richest harvest and most were established in that area. The entire whale including the bone was used. By 1891 the wholesale price of whalebone had reached $5.38 per pound, by 1907 the price of whalebone had collapsed. In 1921, Americas last commercialy hunted bowhead whale was taken. With the approach of the 1930's, and oil from petroleum, the whaling stations were no longer profitable and were shut down.
On the coast of Alaska haul out and butchering of the whale was done at the shoreline or on ice ledges that extended out over the water near the village or hunting site.. The usable parts were removed, including bone used for building, tools, and some decorative articles, the rest was left . As sea ice melted and the ice flows moved with the tide, much of the old bone was burried . Much of the easily obtainable bone collected from old subsistence sites has been gathered by the people from the nearby villages who's ancestores hunted them. Bone is still dug from the ground by hand at old subsistance sites. This can only be done in the short summers when the ground is not covered with snow or frozen deep in permafrost.
From a limited amount of old whale bone available , each piece is hand carved in Alaska by Alaskan artists.