More planning needed for next bowhead hunt

Nunavut’s wildlife management board hopes that by providing more time for planning, Nunavut’s next bowhead whale hunt will go better than the first one held last summer.



Wildlife officials want Nunavut communities to carefully plan their next bowhead whale hunt, wherever it may be.

That’s why the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board has authorized just a single kill over the next two years.

“What we were hoping is that if the planning doesn’t occur this year, at least they’ll have another year to plan for the ’98 season,” NWMB Chairman Ben Kovic said this week.

Participants in last year’s hunt in Repulse Bay, the first since 1979, ran into a lot of problems before they were able to land their whale.

At one point the whale sank after having been shot hundreds of times, but later resurfaced after its body gassed up.

Some Inuit said they were embarrassed by the botched hunt.

The wildlife board hired consultants to study the hunt and they presented their report to the board in January.

Kovic said hunt organizers will now be encouraged to focus on planning and more training of designated hunters.

“Once a plan is in place to harvest a bowhead, the group will have to sit down and go over it from A to Z, make sure everything is there,” said Kovic.

“Last year we didn’t have time to do that, because the season was already here by the time most of the planning stages were done.”

A review of the 1996 hunt, prepared by Caroline Anawak of Kivalliq Consulting and Manitoba environmental consultant David Milani, suggests that its Nunavut-wide approach complicated planning and implementation.

“Perhaps some of the important traditions would have flowed more freely from a community-driven hunt,” the report’s authors speculate.

Among their final recommendations, the authors stress the chosen community “needs to take a lead role if the hunt is to be carried out near their community and is viewed by others as their hunt.”

Next hunt in Baffin

The NWMB announced the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ approval of its decision last week.

The harvest of one whale in the Nunavut settlement area in 1997 or 1998 will be permitted, and must take place somewhere in Baffin Bay.

The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board has placed additional conditions on the methods hunters must employ to land the whale.

Hunters will be allowed two strikes to land a whale.

“There are situations where a whale can get away, so they’re allowed to try twice,” explained NWMB assistant director Jim Noble.

The whale that hunters finally killed last summer in Repulse Bay managed to swim into deeper water half a mile from shore before sinking, dead.

Hunt organizers were unable to lift it for two days, until the corpse surfaced, bloated with its own gas.

Training needed in equipment

Last year’s hunt plan contained no details on the harvesting method, although a powerful shoulder gun was to have played a key part.

But the consultants who did the bowhead whale hunt review said hunters weren’t trained in how to use it.

The designated hunters therefore had to make hundreds of rifle shots to make the kill.

“Future hunts will have to include more training in the care, loading, bomb preparation and firing of the exploding weapon,” the report states.

Community yet to be picked

The wildlife board, meanwhile, is leaving it up to regional Inuit associations to start work on picking a community for the 1997-98 hunt.

A hunt-planning committee will likely be convened and guidelines for the harvest established.

“Our job is done. It’s really up to the other organizations now if they want to continue,” said Kovic.

Among other things, the Bowhead whale hunt review recommends that community members select the designated hunters.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association supported the bowhead whale hunt at its annual general meeting last October, and had asked for the hunt to take place in Baffin Bay.

Estimates of the size of the Baffin bowhead stock vary, but both scientific and traditional knowledge studies show the population is increasing.

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