Greenland hunting more killer whales as climate changes

Inuit in eastern Greenland have been hunting more killer whales as climate change leaves the area free of ice longer, says a Dane who recently posted a photo on Facebook of a hunter butchering a whale.

WARNING: This story contains an image some may find graphic

Orcas swim off the northern coast of B.C. in this file photo. Danish visitor Thomas Bilde Below says that in recent years, Inuit on the east coast of Greenland have hunted up to 40 killer whales for their meat and skin. (Vancouver Aquarium)

Inuit in eastern Greenland have been hunting more killer whales as climate change leaves the area free of ice longer, says a Dane who recently posted a photo on Facebook of a hunter butchering a whale. 

Thomas Bilde Below lives in Copenhagen, but travels to Greenland every year.

“They have the long dorsal fin,” he says of killer whales, or orca, “so they couldn’t come into ice areas before.”

Below says that this year, hunters have caught one or two orcas, but 35 to 40 have been harvested in previous years.

The hunt usually begins in August and continues into October in the villages of TasiilaqKuumiutKulusuk and Ittoqqortoormiit

The hunters, he says, usually travel in small boats.

“They’re typically after seals, and sometimes they are lucky to spot an orca pod and then they go after them slowly, very slowly.”

He says the hunters will shoot the whale, ideally just behind the blow hole — “It’s a very sensitive place on the whale” — using a .30-06-calibre rifle. Just one whale is taken at a time.

The whales are then taken back to the villages, where the meat and muktak, or whale skin, is sold at the local market.

'One of the best whale meats I've ever tasted'

A hunter in Greenland butchers a killer whale, in a photo posted on Facebook. (Thomas Bilde Below/Facebook)
 

“It doesn’t have the same fishy taste that other whale meats. I think it’s one of the best whale meats I’ve tasted ever,” says Below.

He says the muktak prized by Inuit also is tasty. He describes it as somewhere in between the fin whale, minke whale and narwhal.

“It has a very good taste. A bit salty, but still the smell also is quite different than other muktak.”

Below posted a photo from Greenland to the Facebook group Nunavut Hunting Stories, drawing several questions and comments from Canadian Inuit who hunt beluga and a limited number of bowhead whales. 

Many Nunavummiut posted questions and comments when Below posted photos of the hunt on the Nunavut Hunting Stories Facebook page. (Facebook)

Below says the price the whales fetch is still quite low.

Killer whales as a whole are not considered endangered or threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The organization’s current status for the animals is “data deficient,” partly because of the possibility that the whales may represent more than one species.

Because the whales were never hunted on a large commercial scale, they are not monitored by the International Whaling Commission. 

Recent campaigns to protect killer whales have focused on freeing the animals from captivity. 

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