In the late 19th and 20th centuries, over 2,000 whaling voyages set out from New Bedford, Massachusetts, bound for the bowhead whaling grounds off Alaska's arctic coast. The voyage of over 20,000 miles took the whalers to the Azore islands off the coast of Africa, around Cape Horn and the southernmost tip of South America, to the Hawaiian islands and finally, to the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean. Many Alaska Natives, particularly Inupiat Eskimo people, participated in commercial whaling. In addition to crewing on the ships they hunted for food for the whalers, provided warm fur clothing, and sheltered many crews that were shipwrecked on the Alaska coast.
The Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska was designated an affiliated area of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in New Bedford, Massachusetts to ensure that the contributions of Alaska Natives to the history of whaling is recognized. The Heritage Center was dedicated in February 1999 and houses exhibits, artifact collections, library, gift shop, and a traditional room where people can demonstrate and teach traditional crafts. The North Slope Borough owns and manages the Heritage Center on behalf of the whaling villages of the North Slope. The Heritage Center is one of several partners, associated through New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park legislation, who participate in telling the story of commercial whaling in the United States. Park partners operate independently but collaborate in a variety of educational and interpretive programs.