Hunters from Coral Harbour harvested a 10-metre (33-foot) bowhead whale on July 10.
“That’s a lot of maktaaq. Enough for most of the community members,” said Greg Ningeocheak, one of the hunters to harpoon the animal.
Captained by Mayor Willie Nakoolak, a team of 15 men and one boy left town around midday. They headed south along the coast, eventually setting up around 40 km south of Coral Harbour.
The hunt team was split up with most of the men divided among five boats. Another few were on all-terrain vehicles acting as spotters, looking for whales from shore.
As the day went on, heavy winds grew stronger. This made for choppy conditions on the water. Fortunately, it didn’t take long until one of the spotters noticed a whale on the far side of a massive piece of ice. Once the boaters located the animal, they started trying to harpoon it. The first three attempts to hit the whale missed, but Tapia Saviakjuk was able to get one in on the fourth try.
“As he struck the whale, it kind of went in circles. I’m sure it was injured from the hit,” said Ningeocheak.
Another harpoon went in shortly after.
“I put a third one in him,” Ningeocheak said, “and then the guys started shooting with their rifles. It didn’t seem like it wasn’t getting slower so we used the explosive gun, what we call the bomb gun. In our dialect it’s called a qayuu.”
After the explosive went off, Ningeocheak could tell the whale was badly hurt.
“That was almost enough to kill it. A couple minutes later, the flipper went up and then it rolled onto its back. That’s when we knew it was dead,” Ningeocheak said. “Everyone was just yelling in celebration. It was a fun moment.”
Ningeocheak was part of Coral Harbour’s first bowhead hunt in 2018, which was the first to take place in Nunavut after the ban on hunting them was lifted. That crew included just five men and it took them close to 10 trips before they finally landed one. While that was a memorable moment for Ningeocheak, he said this hunt was even more special because his 10-year-old son was on board.
“The guys hardly bring their sons. The captain allowed for him to get on. He understood why it was important. He was on my boat and part of my crew,” he said. “It was awesome, man. He’ll remember it for the rest of his life.”
Hundreds of people came down to greet the crew as they returned with their catch.
“When we brought it to shore, most of the community members were already waiting. There was well over 200 people, maybe even 300,” said Ningeocheak.
As the crew was butchering the whale by the water, a loader showed up to pull the animal farther onto shore so more people could help out.
“It took a while to butcher,” Ningeocheak said.