August 29, 2013

Our First Native Experience: Seal Hunting

Warning: These pictures do show a dead seal. If this offends you, please do not look any further!

Yesterday was a big day!
Around noon, Josh informed me that he was going hunting with someone he just met yesterday.  He gave me no name, no details whatsoever about what he was doing or where he was going.. He just went! 
So after school when I went home and still heard nothing from him, I became a little worried.
At 5:30 pm (Alaska time), Josh finally calls me, out of breath and clearly excited. 
He said, "We got one!"
In my head, I'm thinking, "Oh, he got a fish or a bird." 
Never thought I would hear him say, "No.. a SEAL!!"
I'm then thinking.. well now what?!

So I head down to the river behind the school to see his catch.
There, I meet the two men he went out with. 
They were super friendly and I actually teach with one's sister! She is the Yupik teacher to my 5th/6th graders.

Here I should point out that Josh did not actually shoot the seal.  Natives are able to catch seal anytime they want to.  I am not 100% sure, but I do not think it is legal for Josh to kill one himself.  Josh was glad he could go along for the experience though!

I walked down to the river and here is when I first saw the seal.
This is the first time where I have really been "culture-shocked". It was definitely something to see an animal people go to Sea World to watch, here, dead in this man's boat.  While for them, it's something they have always done for thousands of years!

They then decided to haul the seal back to the person's house who shot it.
Joshua and I then decide to go home and eat some spaghetti supper, because we're sure they do not want us to come watch them clean it since we would not know what to do! 
Let me just say that this is the first animal I have ever seen being cleaned and cut up.  How have I been with Joshua this whole time (and his family) and not once seen them butcher an animal?!

But it definitely was cool talking and chatting with the men.  We definitely learned a lot and got to see how they dress the seal and what they do with it!

 Walking to find Josh and the seal!
 First glimpse of it!
Robert and Josh
One of my students and the seal
First pic with the seal!
Seal flippers!
Transferring the seal to Robert's house

This seal was a bearded seal.  Apparently, the meat on this seal is very good.  There are three type of bearded seals.  They mentioned the Yupik word mukluk - which translates to bearded seal - but I'm not sure if this seal was a mukluk.  Still thought it was pretty interesting!

After they called us to come back to his house, they began to clean the seal. 
The seal was huge! 
Josh decided to compare it to him. Isn't his face hilarious!

They cleaned the seal with an ulu knife - Josh thought that was pretty cool!

I know the above photo may be a little graphic to some people. But I just wanted to show you all how much blubber a seal has.  I could not believe how thick this layer of fat was! I was also brave enough to touch and feel it!

One of the best things Natives get from a seal is the oil.  They first separate the blubber and the fur.  Then, they cut the blubber into strips.  They put these strips into a five gallon bucket and stir it every day.  The oil will separate from the blubber and drain to the bottom of the bucket.  They dip everything in seal oil, like salmon (dried or not) and even the seal meat itself.

They then skin the rest of the animal so they can get to the best part - the meat! 
Now apparently there is a way to give the meat up.  It really just depends how many people were there when the seal was killed.  For instance, yesterday, they cut the meat off right underneath the ribs.  The driver of the boat got to keep the bottom half.  The person who shot it, Robert, got to keep the rest of the seal, the upper part.  They did offer part of the meat to Joshua and I, but Joshua refused because we did not want to waste the meat since we do not know how to cook it.  But that being said, we definitely want to try it and we are hoping they will offer us some once they cook it!
When in Rome, right?!

I had guessed that most people use every part of the seal once they kill it, but seeing it get cleaned right in front of me and hearing how they prepare it was really neat.  The fur is great for lining during the winter months because it stays so warm.  I was most surprised to find out that they do eat the seal's bottom flippers.  I guess it is the best when aged.  So they prepare the meat by wrapping up the flipper with newspaper or old clothes, something to keep bugs, etc. out.  They leave it wrapped up for about two weeks or so.  After that time, the fur will peel off really well and the meat will be more tender.  You then can cook it however you want.

That's another thing.. apparently you can cook seal however way you like it.  Boil it, broil it, fry it, dry it - They are all good!

After the seal was cleaned, Robert's mom took their portion, the upper half, and started cutting the meat into smaller bits to freeze better.  They eat them just like we eat ribs down in the lower 48! 

This was such a cool experience! It may seem weird or inhumane to some people that read this (Shoot, I'm sure I would think it was a little weird if I wasn't living here),  but it is a way of life and Joshua and I are just trying to respect where we are living.

Robert and his friends were very nice the whole time we were there.  Turns out they have some pretty cool stuff, too! 

At their house, they had a walrus' jaw and tusks! I had no idea they were so big and so heavy! It was a surreal thing to hold them.  Also, I didn't realize that a walrus can be as mean and as aggressive as a black bear.  The men we were with yesterday said they have to watch out for them with just as much intensity as if they were in black bear territory. Who knew?!

Also on their hunting trip, Josh found and got to keep a Mammoth's tooth!

Do you realize how old this thing is?!

I tried to put up as many pictures as I could without being too graphic, but I also wanted to write and express the cool information Joshua and I learned about something all Natives know how to do that we wouldn't get any place else!
I just wish we would have taken the chance and gotten some meat, but trust us, 
next time we will!


  1. I have been reading your blog and think what you guys are doing is so amazing. I wish my husband and I were able to take this kind of adventure! :)

  2. This is so cool to be right there and seeing how these people have done this forever. They have so much to share with you guys. And you are so lucky to be able to see it first hand.And they are so lucky to be able to know you guys, you have a lot to offer them in your way of being who you are. LOVE GMA HALL