Alianait! Nunavut bowhead hunters land their whale
Hunters from Pangnirtung land huge bowhead whale Aug. 6
Pangnirtung’s first bowhead whale-hunting party in 15 years met with success Aug. 6 with the landing of a bowhead whale measuring more than 12 metres (41 feet) long.
The hunt had been postponed by ice and weather conditions in Cumberland Sound.
But people in Pangnirtung say that, under sunny skies and in calm waters, 35 hunters in six boats successfully landed the bowhead west of Kekerten Island at about 1 p.m. Aug. 6 in less than a half an hour, after spotting a group of bowhead in Cumberland Sound.
After being shot twice, the bowhead whale began to sink. The hunters had to very slowly raise the whale by hand until it surfaced and they could attach flotation devices.
The hunt was led by Simeonie Keenainak, captain of the hunt and noted accordion player, former RCMP constable and teacher, with Charlie Qumuatuq as co-captain.
As co-captain on the community’s last bowhead whale hunt in 1998, Keenainak recalled overseeing the harvesting of a similarly large bowhead whale.
Bowheads can measure more than 18 metres, or about 60 feet, in length, and live for more than 200 years.
After securing the bowhead whale to the floatation devices, whalers then floated the bowhead whale in for butchering at Kekerten Territorial Park on Kekerten Island, about 50 kilometres south of Pangnirtung and the site of a 19th century whaling station.
At about 8 p.m. Aug. 6 gunshots were fired into the sky from the tops of the hills at Kekerten, a traditional signal to indicate the whale was within sight and would soon be landed.
Shortly after the boats arrived at Kekerten, the whale was attached to a massive pulley system and about 30 men and boys from the camp there helped haul the whale as high up as they could.
The tide was going out, so as the whale was lowered, the entire whale was exposed and officially measured by a scientist at the site who reported back on its length: 41 feet, six Inches — more than 12 metres.
About 150 to 200 people from the community headed to Kekerten to join in the celebration of the hunt last night, with many remaining on the island.
Until recently, Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists claimed there were only several hundred bowhead whales in eastern Arctic waters, preventing their harvest in Nunavut.
Estimates of the bowhead population then jumped from 345 in 2000 to about 3,000 in 2003, then to 7,309 in 2007, and, in 2008, to 14,400, with an outside estimate of up to about 43,000 bowhead whales in waters off Nunavut.
In 2009, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board established a quota, or a total allowable take, of three whales per year over three years, which was then extended for 2012 and 2013.
Each of Nunavut’s three regions has been able to harvest a whale in recent years with hunts last year in Kugaaruk, Taloyoak and Arctic Bay.
(more to come)