Ottawa approves second bowhead whale for Baffin region next year

Nunavut hunters in Baffin may catch two bowhead whales in 2015


Peter Paneak enjoys a piece of muktuk off the bowhead whale harvesters in Clyde River caught this past August. (PHOTO BY AIMO PANILOO)

Peter Paneak enjoys a piece of muktuk off the bowhead whale harvesters in Clyde River caught this past August. (PHOTO BY AIMO PANILOO)

Hunters in Nunavut’s Baffin region can look forward to hunting a second bowhead whale next year, when the region’s annual bowhead quota increases from one to two.

That’s following a recent decision by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, whose minister Gail Shea, agreed Aug. 18 to increase Nunavut’s total allowable harvest of the bowhead from three to four whales annually.

Before now, each of Nunavut’s three regions could harvest a single bowhead whale each year.

But this past July, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board approved a request from the Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board to to harvest one more bowhead whale each year in the Baffin region.

In its submission, the Qikiqtaaluk board said it has built up enough capacity and expertise to handle a second whale harvest annually and that “current research on the bowhead whale suggests the Baffin population is stable and growing.”

“In increasing the number of hunts in this region, we are working to develop, and diversify, the experience,” said James Qillaq, who signed the submission as chair of the Qikiqtaaluk board.

“We believe we create the opportunity to develop more effective strategies to deal with a range of issues beyond ensuring a safe and successful hunt; issues like processing, distribution and utilization of the whale.”

It’s not yet known which Baffin communities will harvest whales in 2015.

Although the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada has the bowhead whale listed as a species of “special concern,” its numbers appear to have rebounded in recent decades.

In a 2008 survey, the DFO estimated that the Eastern Arctic bowhead whale population could run as high as 43,105 whales.

In an email to Nunatsiaq News, DFO said its decision to raise the Baffin quota was based on the “the best peer-reviewed science and traditional knowledge available at this time.”

A similar request by the Kivalliq Wildlife Board that would bring Nunavut’s total bowhead whale harvest to five next year is still going through the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement decision-making process, DFO said.

In the meantime, the Kivalliq’s bowhead whale quota has yet to be met for the year, while hunters in Chesterfield Inlet continue to pursue what would be the community’s first modern bowhead.

Whaling crews plan to continue their hunt through September.

In the Kitikmeot region this year, Kugaaruk harvesters took all but a few hours to land their bowhead in Pelly Bay.

And three days into their 2014 hunt, crews from Clyde River killed a 54-foot bowhead about two kilometres outside the Baffin community.

In Nunavik, however, it’s been five years since a community stepped forward to coordinate a bowhead whale hunt.

Hunters in Quaqtaq canceled a bowhead hunt in July, saying the costs and planning required to prepare for the hunt proved too much for the Ungava Bay community.

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