Yesterday we headed out in the cold grey day in the face of a steady rain to go boating up Admiralty Inlet. Our goal was Baillarge Bay which is one of the four fjords that run east off Admiralty Inlet here (from north to south they are Elwin Inlet, Baillarge Bay, Strathcona Sound and Adam's Sound). Although it rained steadily, and was about 1 degree out, it was dead calm, and it was a fantastic day.
As we approached Ship Point we encountered our first, of several, Bearded Seal of the day. Too good of an opportunity to pass up we decided to try and take it.
So, if hunting isn't your cup of tea, or if the sight of blood and/or a huge dead animal is off putting for you, just enjoy the photo of a curious Bearded Seal from later in the trip (above). Don't venture below the fold where the rest of the story is.
First off, Bearded Seals are large animals. And powerful too as you'll see in a minute. The other important characteristic from our point of view was that they sink very rapidly. Which from a perspective of hunting them means that you can't just shoot it in the head, as it will sink and you'll lose it. So what needs to happen is that you shoot it in the back, when it resurfaces harpoon it to attach a float, and then kill it.
Now apparently years of not firing a rifle has made my previous skill with accuracy a thing of the past. Either that or shooting from a boat is a skill that I've not yet acquired. Now what you do is find the seal when it surfaces, and take a shot. If you miss you've got to wait until it resurfaces again and shoot again. Guess where the seal will resurface again is a real skill and I was amazed that my friend's ability to know just where that would be, time and time again. Part of the goal here is to shoot quickly, so as not to give the animal a lot of time on the surface, making it stay down for less time.
I shot a great deal (in my defence so did a couple of the others in the boat) before finally hitting the seal in the back, wounding it. Two passes later and my brother-in-law harpooned it, and out went the float. The seal stayed down an amazingly long time, mostly straight down from the buoy, but some times dragging it around. During this time it pulled the float (about a two foot diameter air filled float) completely underwater three or more times. The strength behind that is incredible.
I'd estimate it was down for fifteen minutes before finally surfacing, giving us the opportunity to kill it, at bring it alongside the boat. Now this is a huge animal. I'm guessing here but I'd think this was in the neighbourhood of seven or eight feet long, and probably five or six hundred pounds. So you can't just pull it into the boat to add to the catch for the day, it must be taken ashore and dealt with.
When the four of us dragged it as far as we could up the beach we discovered another testament to the animal's power, the harpoon shaft, a half inch diameter stainless steel rod, was bent into a hook shape. This picture, of the start of the butchering, will give an idea of the size of this animal. Also note how the seal is being skinned.
One of the uses that Inuit make of Bearded Seals is that their skin is used for the soles of kamiks and for rope. You'll notice that the skin is being taken in two large bands across the belly. If this will be made into rope those bands will be cut into a long continuous strip about the circumference. Another use of the seal, that as far as I know is particular to them is that the small intestine is relished. It is taken out, the contents squeezed out, a couple of plugs of blubber are then put in and squeezed through to further clean out the contents. Then they are coiled through each other for ease of handling and cooking. The intestines are eaten boiled, much like hollow sausages.
Later in this area, Baillarge Bay and environs, we saw several other Bearded Seal. We passed on hunting any more of them, because really one is enough. The "beard" that gives them their name are whiskers that, much like those of Walrus, help them find their food. The food consists mostly of benthic invertebrates, such as molluscs, tube worms and the like. I can't even imagine how many tubeworms it would take to fuel an animal this size.