Pangnirtung bowhead whale hunters ready to set off
Whalers wait for ice and weather conditions to clear up in Cumberland Sound
Pangnirtung’s first bowhead whale-hunting party in 15 years is set to get head out once ice and weather conditions clear up in Cumberland Sound.
Icy conditions and recent gale warnings from southeast winds blowing into the sound have delayed the group’s departure this week, said Simeonie Keenainak, captain of the hunt and noted accordion player, former RCMP constable and teacher.
“If we go today, we know we’re going to be sitting out there for three days, because of the weather and the ice,” Keenainak said July 30.
As co-captain on the community’s last bowhead whale hunt in 1998, Keenainak recalled overseeing the hunt of a 12-metre (42-foot)-long whale.
“This time we’d like to get a smaller one. We’d like to eat something that’s not too much older than us,” Keenainak joked.
Bowheads can measure more than 18 metres (60 feet) in length, and live for more than 200 years.
Pangnirtung’s whaling crew includes more than 30 hunters and support members, Keenainak said.
They will set out in six boats, with Charlie Qummuatuq as co-captain of the hunt.
Hunters on four boats will focus on the hunt, while those on the other two boats will provide relief and equipment.
Plans call for the whalers to carry out some of their butchering at Kekerten Territorial Park on Kekerten Island, Keenainak confirmed.
Located about 50 kilometres south of Pangnirtung, Kekerten was the site of a 19th century whaling station.
The hunting party is permitted to take one bowhead whale, Keenainak said. “If we sink one, or lose one for some reason, we could still strike one more,” he added.
The group hopes to set sail August 2, Keenainak said, weather and ice conditions permitting.
Until recently, Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists claimed there were only several hundred bowhead whales in eastern Arctic waters, preventing their harvest in Nunavut.
Estimates of the bowhead population then jumped from 345 in 2000 to about 3,000 in 2003, then to 7,309 in 2007, and, in 2008, to 14,400, with an outside estimate of up to about 43,000 bowhead whales in waters off Nunavut.
In 2009, the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board established a quota, or a total allowable take, of three whales per year over three years, which was then extended for 2012 and 2013.
Each of Nunavut’s three regions has been able to harvest a whale in recent years with hunts last year in Kugaaruk, Taloyoak and Arctic Bay.