Point Lay is a low headland at the mouth of the Kokolik River on Kasegaluk Lagoon, separated from the Chukchi Sea by an unnamed barrier island, about 143 miles (231 km) northeast of Point Hope and 96 miles (155 km) southwest of Wainwright, Alaska. Point Lay was named by Captain Frederick William Beechey in September 1826 for George Tradescant Lay who was the ship’s naturalist. The Iñupiat name for the lagoon was reported in 1923 as “Kasegarlik” meaning “spotted seal place” or “having spotted seal”, and changed in 1929 by U.S. Geological Survey to its present spelling. Kasegaluk Lagoon is isolated from the Chukchi Sea by a series of long thin barrier islands separated by 7 passes. The lagoon receives river water from the Kukpowruk, Utukok, and Kokolik Rivers.
The deeply-indented shoreline at Point Lay has prevented the village of Point Lay from effectively hunting bowhead whales since these animals stay farther offshore during the annual migration. However, the village participates in beluga whaling in sea ice leads and within Kasegaluk Lagoon, as well as walrus hunting farther offshore. During and after breakup of the sea ice between June and mid-August, beluga whales appear along the Chukchi Sea coast between Kotzebue Sound and Wainwright. Belugas are harvested by seven villages including Buckland, Kotzebue, Noatak, Kivalina, Point Hope, Point Lay, and Wainwright. Most villages harvest five or fewer belugas a year. Point Lay had a more substantial harvest of 30-40 whales, mostly caught within the lagoon.
The Pacific walrus feeds on invertebrates living in the sediments on the bottom of the Bering and Chukchi Seas. Walruses spend most of their lives at sea, but haul out on sea ice and sometimes land to rest between intensive feeding sessions. They can dive hundreds of feet to forage on the seafloor. The extent of summer sea ice in the Chukchi Sea has decreased substantially in recent years and this change in the distribution of seasonal sea ice affects walrus distribution and behavior. In the last decade, the summer sea ice has receded past the edge of the continental shelf and over water too deep for walruses to feed. The has forced walruses to haul out on beaches instead, particularly on the barrier islands of Kasegaluk Lagoon near Point Lay. See a short video about how this is being studied here. Read more here and here. Explore more of Kasegaluk Lagoon here: