Bill Hillman's 
EduTech Research Project
John Tyman's
INUIT ~ People of the Arctic
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Part 1: Sealing
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1. Though the Arctic environment is undoubtedly harsh 
it offers a range of foods to those with the necessary skills, strength and patience.
The Inuit of Spence Bay are referred to as the Netsilik, the “People of the Seal” 
– from natsiq , the word for seal in Inuktitut (the language of the Inuit).
2. The ringed seal is their most important species, 
and provides both food and clothing. 
At home in the water, seals are mammals nevertheless 
and so must  come  up for air.

3. In early winter they are hunted at the ice edge,
before the bay freezes over completely.
4. A small boat (carried there on a sled) is used to retrieve seals that have been shot. 
With a thick layer of blubber then they float for longer than they do in summer.

5. The seal will be harpooned from the boat and the line attached to the barbed harpoon head will be used to drag the seal from water.
6. In mid-winter after the sea freezes over, seal hunting switches to breathing holes (aglu in Inuktitut). These are identified usually by little mounds  of rime produced by the freezing of the moisture  released by the seal as it empties its lungs  before breathing in fresh air.

7. Hunters  use their harpoon handle to determine the shape of the breathing hole and the likely direction of the seal's approach. Returning repeatedly to each of its breathing holes the seal will break the thin layer of ice that has formed since its last visit, and in this way can maintain holes through ice two to three metres thick.
8. Having located a breathing hole showing signs of recent use,  the hunter will wait like this for hours at a time, standing  with his harpoon on his knees and his snow knife close by. Seals breathe every twenty minutes  or so  but each animal maintains several holes.

9. Listening for the sound  of the seal's return the hunter will stand motionless, on  the caribou skin bag in which he brought  his harpoon head and line from home. This not only provides insulation but also cushions any small sound that might scare the seal away.
10. When he hears the seal break the fresh ice in its hole and empty its lungs, the hunter will strike downwards  with his harpoon in the direction he has determined. Keeping a firm hold on the line attached to the head of the harpoon (now buried beneath the skin of the seal) he will enlarge the  breathing hole with his snow knife and drag the animal out.

11. His success will then be celebrated with his hunting partner, by downing a cup of tea and a dry biscuit. Men commonly  hunt with partners (among whom the fruits of their success are shared)  since watching several breathing holes at the same time obviously improves your chances.
12. In spring, with the return of the sun, there is only a brief period when seals can be harpooned in this way.

13. The snow which covers the breathing holes then melts and seals climb out on to the ice.


14. They will bask in the sun beside one or other of their holes, 
which offer an escape route should they be threatened 
– either by polar bears or hunters.

15. The hunter stalks the sleeping seal knowing that every minute, 
like clockwork, the seal will raise its head and look around  to check that it’s safe.


16. Just before it lifts its head a muscle twitches in its neck 
so when the hunter sees this he will freeze, remaining motionless 
till the animal dozes off again. A seal’s eyes are well suited to use under  water. 
On land they recognize movement readily enough
but have trouble distinguishing between the shape of a man and a sleeping seal.

17. Stalking is less necessary today 
since harpoons have been replaced by guns  in summer. 
Instead seals are now shot from a distance.
18. The hunter aims for the head, 
and blood from a fatal wound 
is allowed to drain away before...

19. The seal is then dragged to the sled for the return journey to the village,
pulled by a snowmobile or ATV.
20. During the brief period of open water at the end of summer, 
seals are also shot from boats, but these spend most of the year
marooned on the ice, kayaks having been replaced by outboards.

Dr. John Tyman

I. Environment:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
II. Food Sources: 
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
III: Clothing/Shelter:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
IV. Family: 
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
V. Community:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Text, photos and recordings by John Tyman
Intended for Educational Use Only.
Copyright Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University, 2010.
Contact Dr. John Tyman for more information regarding licensing.

Photo processing, Web page layout, and formatting by
William Hillman | www.hillmanweb.com
Assistant Professor ~ Faculty of Education ~ Brandon University ~ Brandon, Manitoba ~ Canada