Kugluktuk celebrated a whale of a tale in August that was about 10 years in the making.

Approximately 75 hunters harvested close to 25 beluga whales from Aug. 21-24, according to Larry Adjun, chair of the Kugluktuk Hunters and Trappers Organization. The sea mammals only make an appearance around Kugluktuk every decade or so, he said.

“We have this age-old tradition of payuk, and that’s to share your catch with everyone,” said Adjun. “It still carries on from our local lifestyle here because there’s not that many jobs here and not that many people that had (boats) or hunting equipment to go out… what we generally do here is give half of your meat and maktaaq away to people who aren’t fortunate enough to go hunting.”

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Husband and wife John Franklin Kaodloak and Mercie Jane Kaodloak and son Kirk Kapakatoak were but one example of the spirit of payuk. They had plenty of maktaaq to hand out to others, and it didn’t take long for the ample supply resting on a tarp on Nattiq Street to dwindle as grateful residents came calling.

“We kept some for our freezer and sent lots to family out of town — there was still a lot left to go around,” said Jennifer Ongahak, Kirk’s partner.

Most of the whales were harvested about 40 km from Kugluktuk and then the meat was carved at the nearest shoreline, placed in the boats and brought back to the community, Adjun explained.

“Once you initially come across the pod, it’s a lot easier to herd them into shallow waters, where you can harpoon them a lot easier,” he said.

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Towing an entire beluga carcass 40 km back to Kugluktuk would be a slow process, said Adjun. However, he noted that determined young hunter JJ Ihumatak did exactly that to ensure that fellow residents had a chance to see the process in person.

“There’s not that many people that have seen a whale… and are fortunate enough to watch how they butcher it, how to take the maktaaq off, how to take the meat off, how to take the ribs off,” said Adjun. “He (Ihumatak) got the whole community involved.”

Some people eat the whale raw, others prefer it cooked.

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“There’s some that like the Inuvialuit way, and that’s to ferment the cooked whale (meat) in a five-gallon pail lined with whale blubber,” Adjun said. “That’s one of the delicacies that I like.”

However, he warned that the fermentation must be done in a cold environment, like in a freezer. Otherwise, there’s a risk of botulism, he said, adding that soaking the meat in salt water can help draw out the blood.

The event brought such delight to the community that a candy toss and a parade were organized afterwards.

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