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A dream come true for Coral whalers

Coral Harbour was abuzz with life last week after a group of five hunters harvested a 27-foot bowhead whale.

“It was a dream come true,” said Aaron Emiktowt, who led the hunt.

Darcy Nakoolak, Spencer Saviakjuk and Aaron Emiktowt, Joe Saviakjuk and Greg Ningeocheak stand on top of the whale they harvested at Ruin Point near Coral Harbour at the end of June. photo courtesy of Aaron Emiktowt

Emiktowt and his crew of Greg Ningeocheak, Darcy Nakoolak, Joe Saviakjuk and Spencer Saviakjuk had been working throughout the spring to take down one of the giant creatures.

Emiktowt said it took a total of nine trips to Ruin Point, a traditional gathering area where bowheads are usually found in the spring, before they were finally able to find the perfect conditions for taking one down.

“Every time we went out, we would see these whales and we would try and hunt one of them. It was a learning experience,” said Emiktowt.

“There was one time when were trying to hunt it on a little row boat, and there was another time when the whale came out on the flow edge but once we got close it would hear our footsteps and then would just dive.”

After eight unsuccessful scouting trips and with goose hunting season just around the corner, the crew decided to take a break to spend time on the land with their families. However, by the end of June the ice was cracking closer to the sea shore, which presented them with an opportunity.

“We were assuming that whale would get into the shallow part of the island and sure enough it happened,” said Emiktowt.

It took the men two hours to get out to Ruin Point. Once there, Emiktowt teamed up with Ningeocheak in one 18-foot aluminum boat while the other three men got into another.

It didn't take long for them to spot the whale. When they got close enough, Ningeocheak launched a harpoon deep into its skin on his first attempt.

“I asked him to snug the buoy out in front of the bow so we could get towed around and maybe tire the whale out sooner. Darcy was the other driver on the other boat, so I told him to try and get close to get another harpoon in. As they approached the whale – it was a real active one – it turned on them and started attacking the boat instead. In the process he threw the harpoon and hit it and the whale kind of submerged on the boat,” explained Emiktowt. “Darcy grabbed the throttle and got away just in time. They were lucky they didn't get flipped over.”

Even with two harpoons, the whale continued to put up a fight. Although he had a grenade propelled harpoon at his disposal, Emiktowt said it was too unwieldy to use, so he ordered the men to start firing on the bowhead with their rifles. After hitting the whale with a few rounds of heavy ammunition, it slowed down a little bit.

“One time when we got on its side, the whale came out of the water. It showed its head and its neck, and I took a shot where the neck meets the skull and it got knocked out.”

After 20 minutes of fighting it seemed like the hunt was finally over. But as the men grabbed the ropes to pull the animal back to their sleds, the whale moved.

“I asked Greg to reverse the boat and I grabbed my spear and I speared it behind the flipper,” said Emiktowt. “It went in and got the heart and then it just started floating.”

Once they finally pulled the whale to shore, the men made a post on Facebook to notify the community to come out and help butcher it. A few hours later there were 50 people cutting up the whale and collecting the meat, blubber and muktuk, all of which was shared with the community.

“All that was left was the skull. We just left it on the shore for the shrimp to eat.”