Inuit hunters in Iqaluit are celebrating the catch of a century, after successfully killing a 14-metre-long bowhead whale  with harpoons this week.

Dozens of residents continued on Wednesday to carve off meat from the massive marine mammal to divide among the community — an event that hasn't been witnessed in generations because the species was off-limits to hunting for decades.

But with rebounding numbers in recent years, whalers once again have the opportunity to pursue the bowhead after obtaining a federal fisheries licence.

Curious community members and youths gathered around the estimated 74-ton whale this week to help prepare and harvest the animal's maktaaq, which consists of skin and blubber.

Just one of the huge mammals can feed hundreds of people.

Swift hunt

Two dozen hunters were a part of the expedition that killed the whale on Monday, bringing it to land about an hour by boat down Frobisher Bay.

Elder Methuselah Kunuk said the hunt was surprisingly swift.

"We left Iqaluit in the morning, and we were not really expecting to see a whale right away, but we were able to get one in the same day," he said. "That was really good."

Luc Peter, one of the younger hunters, was chosen to throw the first harpoon — one of three — that brought the bowhead down. The chase was thrilling, he said.

"After I struck it, it swam for about a kilometre and then it just stopped, and that gave [another hunter] the opportunity to put another harpoon into it."

Whale 'gave itself'

The CBC's Abraham Tagalik, speaking from Iqaluit, said a "best-case scenario" played out during the hunt.

"The whale, in terms of Inuit culture, it gave itself to us and it presented itself," he said. "And it was a very successful hunt that way."

Aside from the feasting that's expected, elders say the harvest is culturally relevant, as it signifies a return to traditional whaling that has been nearly forgotten after more than a hundred years.

Besides Iqaluit, two other Nunavut communities — Kugaaruk and Coral Harbour — have been granted licenses to hunt bowheads this year.