Mourning the loss of Craig George

All of SEARCH and many people in Utqiagvik and around the world are greatly saddened by the loss of our colleague and friend, John Craighead George. Craig was lost in a rafting accident on the Chulitna River on 5 July and his body recovered on 16 July.

Craig George, far right, with SEARCH colleagues during our all teams convening in Anchorage, June 2022. (From left: Marika Holland, Miles Baker, Savannah Fletcher, Lexie Shultz, Maija Lukin, and Craig George.)

A resident of Utqiagvik for the past 46 years, Craig spent his career studying bowhead whales for the North Slope Borough’s Department of Wildlife Management. He was instrumental in collecting and presenting data that ultimately were decisive in maintaining the right of Indigenous Alaskans to continue their traditional harvests. His innate humility helped him fit into the community and made him a good student of the whalers. On their behalf, he ran a novel and highly effective field effort that documented that the whale harvest was sustainable. Along the way, he made possible the studies of many whale researchers from around the world. Shortly after retiring, he edited—with Hans Thewissen, an authority on whale evolution—The bowhead whale: Balaena mysticetus: Biology and human interactions. The volume seamlessly brings together Indigenous and scientific knowledge of bowhead whales, one of the least known whales on the planet when Craig arrived in Utqiagvik but now, arguably, the best known. Predictably, Craig was extremely humble about his huge contribution to the body of knowledge. 

Man faces camera straight on. He is wearing a blue cap with visor, a teal neck covering, and a voluminous white fur hood. He is smiling and has a gray mustache. The sun is shining on the left of his face, and the sky is pale teal blue.
Craig George, circa 2023.

We were thrilled when he agreed to join SEARCH and, indeed, he inspired us all with his deep appreciation for all ways of knowing, his thoughtful and informative reports on the changing environment in Utqiagvik, his tremendous listening skills, and humility. Craig’s most recent contribution to SEARCH involved coordinating a crew in Utqiagvik to harvest a 300-pound block of wild sea ice to be displayed at the Arctic Encounter Symposium. He leaves a tremendous hole in our work and our hearts. When SEARCH gathers together in October later this year, we will have an opportunity both to acknowledge our loss and honor our good fortune to have worked with Craig.

On a field of sea ice, one man on the left stands in full body snow suit and one man on the right is kneeling on top of a large ridge of sea ice. The man on the left is looking up to the man on the right, and on the ground below them is a sled where they intend to place a large block of sea ice they will cut from the ridge.
Craig George, left, works with crew member in Utqiagvik to harvest sea ice.