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Alaskan Athletes Get Seal of Approval

Youth from all over Alaska gathered in Anchorage in late April for the Native Youth Olympics. Athletes competed in events rooted in Alaska Native tradition, such as the wrist carry and the two-foot high kick. The seal hop is generally regarded as the most grueling of all.

To mimic the motion of a seal on land, competitors must hold their body in a push-up position and hop forward on their hands and toes without stopping or breaking form. Whoever hops the farthest wins. This sport harkens back to the traditional method of hunting seals.

At this year’s seal hop, athletes and spectators alike heard an unexpected sound coming from the stands – the bellow of an actual seal! As it turned out, the “ooh-ooht” sound came from Samuel Mecham, a student in Anchorage who had perfected his seal call on hunts in his home village of Unalakleet. At the Olympics, he was using his skill to cheer on the athletes.

The seal call is as traditional as the race itself; generations of hunters have used the call to distract seals to get the perfect shot with their harpoons. The call could also be used to celebrate a hunter’s successful return home. Even in the 21st century, the seal call is not without its uses; families sometimes use the seal-call to find each other when separated in cavernous stores like Walmart. Albeit in a different kind of wilderness, the seal call is still effective.

Image at top: NYO attendees participated in the blanket toss during the event. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Tahbone, used with permission.

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