THE HUNTER’S BEST FRIEND

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Dogs are the obligatory companions of a sea hunter. The Bering Strait never freezes completely, the “fast ice” – sea ice fastened to the coastline – meeting the drifting pack ice and pushing icebergs across open water. Broken, covered with hummocks and bulges, streaked with cracks that appear and disappear, the fast ice can extend several kilometres out to sea. Hunters need to get to the open water, to the very edge of the ice. And that is where the dogs come in. Chukotka sled dogs would never win races; they are not trained to run fast. Their strength is pulling loads. In the 20th century, dogs pulled heavy, wooden whale boats; now it’s metal boats and baidarkas. “Dogs are your transport,” explains Oleg Konko. The musher – a driver of a dogsled – is about 50 years old. He’s thin and wiry, with prominent veins on his forearms. Oleg inherited the team of dogs from his older brother, and his brother got them from his father. “You don’t need to buy petrol, and we use the dogs in the summer, too,” insists Oleg. “My neighbour has a quad bike and rides around. I don’t have a quad, so I use a sled and ride along the grass and sand. If the dogs become restive, they cannot work in winter.” The main hunting season begins around December. The ice is everywhere, on the sea and the rivers. Sometimes, the rivers don’t freeze for a long time; they keep on flowing. “Last year, a team went to catch seals,” says Oleg, “but they fell through the ice and drowned in the lagoon.”

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