'The adrenaline is still going:' Excitement lingers after Iqaluit bowhead hunt

First-time hunter Koovian Flanagan is still shaking with excitement on Long Island, as she fills bags with food to share.

'I was terrified, I was happy, I was scared, I was excited,' says first-time hunter

Hunters continued harvesting the skin, a delicacy known as muktuk, and blubber of a bowhead whale on Wednesday after a traditional hunt. (Michael Salomonie/CBC)

When the tide is in you can hardly see the bowhead whale where it rests on an island in Frobisher Bay outside of Iqaluit.

As the waters recede, hunters are hard at work, stripping the dark skin and light pink blubber from the bowhead successfully hunted on Tuesday.

The work continues to harvest muktuk​, a Northern delicacy of fresh whale skin.

On Wednesday morning, Koovian Flanagan stepped off a boat onto Long Island, or Ukaliqtuliq in Inuktitut. The first-time hunter is still shaking with excitement as she filled bags with food to share.

Koovian Flanagan, a first-time hunter, says she was the fifth and last person to harpoon a bowhead whale near Iqaluit. (Michael Salomonie/CBC)

"The adrenaline is still going through me right now," said Flanagan, an Iqaluit resident. "I was terrified, I was happy, I was scared, I was excited."

Flanagan was surprised when she and her sister were selected to be part of a team because she is not a hunter.

"I wanted to be a part of this experience," she said. "Being picked with my sister made it all that much more special. We're 50 years old and we got to hunt a bowhead whale together."

She was the fifth person to harpoon the bowhead on Tuesday's hunt, which was the second for the community in a decade. 

The tide dictates the harvest of a bowhead whale on Long Island outside of Iqaluit. As the tide rises, it becomes more difficult for hunters to slice through the skin and blubber using traditional knives and hooks with long handles, even while wearing hip waders. (Michael Salomonie/CBC)

"I want to congratulate the Amarok hunters and trappers [association] for the successful bowhead whale hunt," said Joanasie Akumalik at a city hall meeting Tuesday evening.

"I am very proud to have that whale caught in Iqaluit."

'I feel so much emotion'

Joe Nooshoota, 36, was one of the captains and one of many young hunters learning from elders.

"I feel so much emotion, it's hard to explain in words," he said in Inuktitut. "I've learned so much and now I will know more for our next hunt that I can share that with others. It's a good feeling."

Joe Nooshoota, 36, was still emotional the day after being one of the captains of the bowhead whale hunt near Iqaluit. (Michael Salomonie/CBC)

The last bowhead whale hunt in Iqaluit was in 2011. But Inuit have harvested bowhead for centuries, Flanagan said.

"I'm thinking of our great-great-grandfather who are whalers, and how they did it in a little qajaq," she said. "It's something we could have lost, we almost lost."

With files from Michael Salomonie and Angela Hill