780 AM | 96.1 FM | “Yours for Western Alaska”

Gambell Teenager Leads Successful Whale Hunt, Brings Home 57-Foot Bowhead

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


  1. Cindi on April 23, 2017 at 3:18 am

    Please follow up on this story to show what is used from this whale, and what is left unused. I know your stories are primarily intended for a more local audience, but if people in other parts of the country, and world, could see the difference between indigenous and commercial whaling they might begin to understand better what this catch means to a community. Can I follow you on Facebook or get notifications of your reporting?
    Thanks, Cindi

    • David Dodman on April 24, 2017 at 9:37 am

      Hello, Cindi, thanks for your comment. I can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to do a follow-up story of the sort that you’re suggesting, especially since our travel opportunities to far-flung communities like Gambell are limited. But it’s definitely a good suggestion, and we definitely appreciate the feedback.

      You’re welcome to follow KNOM on social media; currently, our most active outlets are Facebook and Twitter. On Twitter, we maintain two different (Twitter) feeds: one for general KNOM goings-on (@knom) and one specifically for news (@knomnews).

      Hope this helps,

      David (KNOM’s web director)

      • Marcus on April 26, 2017 at 5:59 am

        I agree with Cindi, I’ve seen people sharing this story with lot of hate without understanding the importance of hunting for the inhabitants of the island.

  2. Pauline Ouellette Hovey on April 24, 2017 at 11:03 am

    I agree with Cindi. This is a good story for locals, but if I want to share it with friends in the lower 48, they would not understand the importance of how the whale is used for many different purposes and is a way of life and of sustenance for Alaskans. They might simply see a photo of 200-year-old whale beached and sliced up and thereby falsely judge this practice. Thanks for whatever you can do in the way of follow-up stories about whaling as a way of life in outlying areas of Alaska.

  3. Joseph Dinh on May 3, 2017 at 7:22 pm

    I never eat whale meat before! They say unicone whale’s raw fat taste very good. The Eskimos like it!

  4. Joseph on June 11, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    My heart goes out to you all.Why should anyone judge you. When here in the lower states we slaughter cattle by the thousands.