7 years in the making: Iqaluit hunters celebrate successful bowhead whale harvest

The community of Iqaluit is celebrating a major milestone — and preparing to fill their freezers — after a bowhead whale was successfully hunted near the community on Tuesday afternoon.

Young hunters from community harvested first bowhead since 2011, which can feed hundreds

Hunters from Iqaluit celebrate on the water after successfully hunting a bowhead whale. The harvest will be the first one for hunters from Nunavut's capital since 2011. (Michael Salomonie/CBC)

The community of Iqaluit is celebrating a major milestone — and preparing to fill their freezers — after a bowhead whale was successfully hunted near the community on Tuesday afternoon.

It's been seven years since the last bowhead was hunted and killed near Iqaluit. This summer, the local Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association aimed to change that, organizing a hunt and encouraging locals to join

Several hunters left Iqaluit on Monday in multiple boats. They reported a successful harvest at 2:30 p.m. local time Tuesday.

It was the first bowhead hunt for Jack Alakkariallak, who said said there was a tense moment when the whale suddenly changed direction.

"When [a hunter on his boat] was trying to harpoon it, it came up under the boat," he said. "We were parallel, and it turned and went under us and came up.

"Amazing, but scary."

Hunters surround the bowhead whale. The harvest was the result of months of planning by the local Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association. (Mike Netser)

As of Tuesday evening, the whale is being dragged back to Iqaluit, where it will be harvested and shared with members of the community. 

Food for hundreds

The last successful bowhead hunt by Iqaluit hunters was in 2011, when a 14-metre whale was killed by more than 20 hunters. In March, hunter Ben Kovic said that getting the opportunity to hunt a bowhead does not guarantee a successful catch, even with months of planning.

A hunter balances on the bowhead whale while out at sea. The whale hunt was planned for months and involved several hunters and multiple boats. (Madeleine Allakariallak/CBC)

The whale hunt is a traditional part of Inuit culture. Prior to 2011, it had been over a century since Inuit in Iqaluit harvested a bowhead, as the species had been off-limits to hunting to ensure healthy numbers of the species.

Whale numbers began to rebound in the mid-1990s, and a licence system was put into effect, with hunters from a small handful of communities being given the chance to harvest a whale each year.

A successful bowhead harvest can feed hundreds of people. In March, the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association told CBC that if a bowhead was brought back to Iqaluit, some of the meat and muktuk (whale skin and blubber) will be shared with other communities.

With files from Angela Hill