Hunters from Sanirajak departed in search of a bowhead whale around noon on Aug. 1, but the whale came to their community.
About four hours after they left, the hunting party received a radio call informing them that a bowhead was passing nearby Sanirajak (formerly Hall Beach). They immediately turned in pursuit.
Manasee Naulaq sunk the first harpoon into the 41.5-foot whale around 8 p.m.
Isaki (Ike) Angotautok, who had experience in three previous bowhead hunts, operated the explosive harpoon, which requires specialized training, while his son Philip drove the boat.
The prey was dead by around 9 p.m., in calm waters approximately 12 km from the community.
“Everything was aligned,” said a pleased Abe Qammaniq, a member of Sanirajak’s bowhead committee, who was aboard one of the two safety boats.
There were four hunting vessels and a couple of scouting boats in the small fleet. Close to 25 people participated in the quest.
A loader helped haul the large mammal onto the beach, where many jubilant residents were watching and eager to begin stripping away the skin and maqtaq.
“It looked like the whole town (was on shore) when we were arriving, a huge crowd,” said Qammaniq. “(They were) cheering, screaming… clapping, whistles. It was great!”
Residents brought home as much blubber as they wanted. Others delivered some to Elders and to those who were unable to make it to the site, Qammaniq said. Calls went out to Iglulik, to the north, inviting members of that neighbouring community to come and help themselves.
“We saw quite a few boats coming in from Iglulik,” Qammaniq said, adding that some residents will ship maqtaq to relatives in other communities.
Even after all of that, there’s still maqtaq leftover. Because Sanirajak’s 30- to 40-year-old community freezer is broken down – a recurring problem over the past few years – there’s no option to use it for storage of blubber.
“Every summer it seems to go down,” said Qammaniq, who’s vice-chair of the local hunters and trappers association. “We are in the process of trying to get a new (freezer). That’s all I can say.”
Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk couldn’t be reached for immediate comment on the status of the freezer. Nunavut News has asked the Department of Economic Development, which oversees such infrastructure, to address whether the freezer will again be repaired of if there are plans to replace it.
The remaining parts of the whale, including smaller bones, were buried at the beach.
“Traditionally, we don’t leave things on the ground,” Qammaniq said.
However, the bowheads’s giant skull and jaw will remain in place as a new local landmark.
-video courtesy of Chris Utak