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> May 15, 2006 Ė Waiting for Walrus, Portside, on the Mess Deck?
post May 17 2006, 10:31 PM
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Group: TREC Team
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Date: Monday, May 15, 2006

Another scientist named Gay Sheffield came aboard yesterday. She is joining us to study seals. We picked her up with the helicopter from the village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. Gay brought a sample of local food as a gift to Captain Oliver that had been given to her while she was at Gambell.

Just before dinner, I saw Gay disappear into the galley for quite some time. I just happened to be sitting on the mess deck, grabbing a snack with Patty. Shortly afterward, we heard an announcement about walrus on the portside of the ship. The folks on the bridge periodically announce when they see an animal of interest so that others can have a look. This was not too unusual. So we headed toward the nearest door to the outside. What we didnít hear, until they repeated the announcement, was that walrus was being served on the portside of the mess deck! Can you guess what I got to eat?

Many of the scientists and crewmembers quickly crowded onto the mess deck to get a taste. Captain Oliver was generous to share his gift from Gay with the scientists and crew. Now I know why Gay disappeared into the kitchen. She was preparing the walrus skin to be eaten.

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Many of the scientists and crewmembers quickly crowded onto the mess deck to get a taste of walrus skin. Patty and Ruth wanted to taste the walrus skin, too.

I learned that this piece of walrus skin came from the neck or chest region. First it was boiled and then it was cut into very small pieces because it is chewy. Then, the cooks brought the little cooked pieces out of the kitchen in bowls. I could see that many people were hesitant to take a taste at first, but after the first few brave souls, all of the small bites of walrus skin quickly disappeared from the bowls every time the cooks brought them out of the kitchen.

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My little taste of walrus skin.

I was very excited to taste walrus. Sampling local delicacies is one way to learn about local cultures by experience. I have learned that walrus is a nutritional necessity for many of the Siberian Yupik people on St. Lawrence Island as well as other native groups that live on the coast of the Bering Sea. Many people depend on walruses as their major food source. There are scientists on the Healy that are studying the walruses here.

So, what did it taste like? There was a layer of short, brown, bristle-like hairs at the top of each piece that we were told not to eat. There was a tough, slightly pinkish layer under the bristly hairs. At the bottom, there was a small piece of fat. The piece I ate had a subtle fish-like taste to it, but that is to be expected considering that the diet of a walrus consists of benthic invertebrates from the sea. It was also very chewy, like beef jerky. After all the walrus had been eaten, I learned that it can be dipped in salt or soy sauce before being eaten.

I canít help but think, wow, I have eaten a new food - walrus. This has been yet another brand new and unique experience!

Special thanks to Gay Sheffield.
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