Baker Lake catches its first beluga

History was made in Baker Lake, Nunavut's only inland community, on Thursday when two hunters caught a beluga whale in the freshwater lake.

Nunavut's only inland community hunts whale in freshwater lake

History was made in Baker Lake, Nunavut, Thursday when two hunters caught a beluga whale.

Baker Lake is Nunavut's only inland community. Large sea mammals are not known to frequent the freshwater lake. The last time one was seen in the lake was when a killer whale was spotted in the 1970s.

Belugas can live in both seawater and freshwater and are occasionally found in large rivers and estuaries.

Peter Owingayak's mother saw the beluga not far from the community and told him. He and fellow resident Peter Tapatai headed out with a boat. Both had very little experience with beluga hunting.

"My dad has a harpoon he got as a gift, so I rushed to the boat after I got it," Owingayak said. "Peter and I rushed out to find the beluga.

"I was very happy to catch one for the first time. It wasn't a wolf, wolverine or caribou."

Hundreds of residents joined the hunters by the shore to see the catch.

Tapatai was the captain of the hunt. He said they weren't prepared for it.

"We've never done it before," said Tapatai. "I mean, I would like Nunavummiut to imagine what we did. Us from Baker Lake caught what they have always practised."

Anson Kigusiutnak of Arviat showed Tapatai and Owingayak how to butcher the whale. 

"We may not have given everyone a piece as we only had one beluga," said Tapatai.

A celebration was held in the community hall and residents spent all night looking for more belugas. They believe the beluga came inland with the sealift ship.

Tapatai said they could probably catch a bowhead whale now.​