Hundreds trapped by ice

Narwhal tragedy yields 'harvest; for community

By JOHN BIRD

 

As the ice closed in to a few small leads in the strait between Pond Inlet and Bylot Island, Inuit hunters worked long, hard hours to harvest stranded narwhals.

The weather has been cold but clear and with no wind, a spokesman for the Pond Inlet Hunters and Trappers Organization reported in a telephone interview. "Perfect for hunting."

The few remaining patches of open water where the narwhal became trapped while migrating through the strait is about 17 kms out from the community.

As ice formed around the area, the narwhal – small tusked whales who have to surface frequently to breathe air – became trapped in the remaining leads, unable to make it to larger open water and safety."

"They will either drown or die of starvation," Fisheries and Oceans Canada area director Keith Pelley said. "The greatest risk is they are going to drown as their breathing holes freeze over."

The alternative is the "humane harvest" the hunters are now operating by mutual agreement with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which has jurisdiction over marine mammals.

"The community HTO has a well-organized hunt taking place," Pelley said. "It's under control and orderly and they are keeping the DFO up to date."

Up to 200 narwhal had been harvested by press-time, he said.

"We don't know how many narwhal there are," the Pond Inlet spokesman explained. "We won't know until we have finished the harvest."

The normal quota for narwhal in the Eclipse Sound area harvested by Pond Inlet hunters is 130, and Pelley said local hunters had already taken about 90 animals before this group became trapped.

But since the area contains about 20,000 narwhal, the DFO expects the impact of this extraordinary harvest to be minimal.

The HTO said it will distribute the narwhal maktak in the community – and to other communities. The hunters will have to figure out the extent of the distribution once the harvest is completed and they see how much they actually have.

Narwhal, which are found only in Arctic waters and are represented on the Nunavut coat of arms, can grow to four or five metres long, with a usually single, spiralled tusk that can be up to three metres.

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