'I'm surprised I'm still here': Hunter OK after bowhead whale strikes him off boat

Nunavummiut are still telling stories of the bowhead whale hunt outside of Iqaluit, including one about Brandon Oolayou, a young hunter who was hit by the whale.

Brandon Oolayou was the first to harpoon the whale on the hunt

Brandon Oolayou is glad that he survived a hit by an approximately 12-metre-long bowhead whale without any injuries. (David Gunn/CBC)

Brandon Oolayou remembers the moment he was hit by a bowhead whale.

During a hunt in Frobisher Bay, ​the 23-year-old Inuk from Iqaluit was the first to harpoon it. When the whale was still struggling after four other harpoons and a grenade, ​Oolayou struck with his lance.

Brandon Oolayou was struck by a bowhead whale while out on a hunt in Frobisher Bay. (Submitted by Robbie Saimaiyuq)

He was going for the kill, but the lance got stuck.

"I just remember seeing black in the corner of my eye," he said.

Then the whale struck back, hitting him in the leg with either its tail or fin. Oolayou fell overboard into the subarctic bay. After climbing back into his boat, he hopped onto the next boat to change out of his cold, wet clothes. Only after he was in dry clothes did Oolayou feel the pain in his leg.

"I'm surprised I'm still here," he said. "I'm walking, I'm surprised there were no broken bones. It got me really good."

The whale eventually succumbed to the hunters and was harvested on an island two kilometres from the city. The day marked the first time in seven years a bowhead had been harvested near Iqaluit.

There were celebrations in the city, because a harvested bowhead can feed hundreds of people.

Brandon Oolayou was the first to harpoon the whale out of a team of hunters from Iqaluit. (David Gunn/CBC)

This wasn't Oolayou's first hunt, but getting a bowhead whale is unlike anything he'd ever done before.

"I've hunted beluga and narwhals, and that gave me a rush, but this bowhead hunt was different," he said. "It was crazy, it was scary. It was more intense."

A team of hunters from Iqaluit celebrated a successful bowhead hunt on Tuesday, Aug. 14. It was the first bowhead hunt in the city after seven years. (David Gunn/CBC)

Oolayou is glad he got the experience, and that he's alright, but he may not be in line for next hunt. 

"I don't know if I'll do another bowhead hunt again," he said. "But we'll see in the future."

He's hoping to take home a bone from the whale as a souvenir.