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Sanirajak hunters prepare to harvest bowhead whale

Members of Sanirajak’s bowhead committee are actively planning for a hunt that they hope will take place later this month.

Hunters in Sanirajak are preparing to land a bowhead whale, although the harvest is dependent on an approval from the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board and a licence from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
photo courtesy of Department of Fisheries and Oceans

First, permission must be granted by the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board and then a licence would have to be obtained from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

As well, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated would arrange to send a trainer to demonstrate how to properly operate an explosive harpoon gun, said Abe Qammaniq, a member of Sanirajak’s bowhead committee.

“We’re basically planning as if we’re going to go through with the hunt, hoping as soon as possible – the early part of summer in July,” said Qammaniq.

Bowheads are a common spotted from the shore in Sanirajak. The massive whales – weighing up to 100 tons (approximately 91,000 kg) and stretching 15 to 18 metres in length – come up through the Foxe Basin and then, as the ice clears, they make their way into Fury and Hecla Strait, according to Qammaniq.

“They go just past that and that’s where they eat in the summertime,” he said. “We do have many sightings every year within this area… they give us a show once in a while, too.”

Pods often comprise 10 to 20 whales, he added.

It’s anticipated that four hunting boats and two safety vessels will participate in the harvest.

Even if regulators give the green light, there’s no guarantee that the mission will be a success. Bowhead hunters came home without their prey a couple of years ago, but landed a whale in 2017, Qammaniq noted.

“We’ve still got the skull down the coast,” he said.

The bowhead blubber – muktuk – is not a regular part of the local diet but more of a “delicacy,” said Qammaniq. Some eat it raw while others boil it.

However, it takes much of the community to butcher and distribute the copious blubber that comes from the carcass of the enormous mammal.

In neighbouring Iglulik, to the south, a hunters brought home a bowhead in August 2019 as did Kivalliq hunters in Naujaat last August.