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Teenager leads successful whale hunt, brings home 57-foot bowhead

This article has been republished with permission from KNOM Radio Mission.

Editor’s note: Chris Apassingok was a member of the Presbytery of Yukon’s delegation to the 2016 Presbyterian Youth Triennium, themed “GO.” Danna Larson, director of education for children and youth at First Presbyterian Church, Anchorage, Alaska, who served as adult advisor for the presbytery’s delegation, shared the following with Gina Yeager-Buckley, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s associate for Ministries with Youth: “At the Triennium we were encouraged to focus on ‘what will we do when we get back home’ based on what we experienced and learned from the Triennium.  As we met in our Triennium presbytery group I encouraged the youth to name one or two things that they could ‘Go and Do Likewise’ when they returned home. The youth shared openly. One of our youth, Agra Apassingok from Gambell (subsistence village) said, ‘I have to go back and hunt.’ I looked at him and said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I need to hunt.  My people are hungry. We need food.’ Last week Agra (his native name; English name is Christian) caught a whale for his village!” 

By Davis Hovey – April 21, 2017

Families and community members on St. Lawrence Island will be eating bowhead whale this week after a local hunter caught Gambell’s second whale of the season Monday night.

Chris Apassingok was the striker who landed this 200-year-old female bowhead whale for his family and community. Photo by Karen Trop, KNOM (2017)

Chris Apassingok, a 16-year-old who would normally be spending his days in high school, was the “striker,” or hunter credited with catching the 57-foot-long female bowhead whale for the community of Gambell. Apassingok introduces himself by his Yupik name before recounting his successful hunt:

“My Yupik name is Agragiiq. The girls on top of the beach saw a whale, and they thought it was two of them, it was this bowhead whale. [We] went out and chased it for maybe an hour and a half; the other boats could have gotten it, but they never got close enough to strike. It came up right in front of us, and I struck it,” explained Apassingok.

Apassingok’s mother expressed joy for her son, who, she says, was born to be a hunter.

“My name is Susan Aakapak (which means ‘big sister’ in our language) Apassingok. My son has been hunting since he was in diapers and drinking from the bottle, he’s been whaling. His life has been nothing but hunting,” Susan reiterated.

The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commissioner for Gambell, and uncle to Chris the striker, is Edmond Apassingok. He says the approximately 200-year-old whale was caught about two miles away from the village, but further out there is significant open water around the island.

“In the past, we have pulled our boats on the ice and went through open water where there are whales, but now, we can’t do either. It’s either too thin or too thick to go through or on it. It’s changed,” stated Edmond. “The winds move the ice more quickly, and it melts just as fast as soon as the wind picks up to 20 or 30 miles an hour.”

Edmond Apassingok believes ice conditions like these have made hunting for whale more challenging over the last five years or so.

According to the International Whaling Commission regulations, whalers in Gambell have six attempts or strikes for whales left in their catch limit, but Edmond Apassingok noted this whaling season is going by quickly, and the bowheads are already starting to migrate.

Karen Trop also contributed to this story.


Click here to read a related article about the Presbytery of Yukon’s delegation to the 2016 Presbyterian Youth Triennium.

Ministries with Youth — including the Presbyterian Youth Triennium — is made possible thanks to your gifts to the Pentecost Offering.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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