Hunters in Iqaluit may not get to hunt more polar bears this year after all, as the group representing them has to deal with several levels of bureaucracy over the 2011 hunting quota.
Last week, the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association in Iqaluit announced a big increase in the annual number of polar bears its members can hunt, from the usual quota of 23 bears to 41 in 2011.
The organization attributed the increase to “credits” it received from wildlife regulators for staying below the quota in past years.
But Amarok officials have since learned they do not yet have permission to use all those credits. Vice-chair David Alexander told CBC News he blames the confusion on miscommunication between many decision-making bodies.
The Qikiqtaaluk Wildlife Board has approved adding only 10 extra polar bears to Iqaluit’s annual hunt, bringing this year’s quota to 33.
Nunavut government officials said they support the Qikiqtaaluk board’s decision, but it’s now up to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to give its final approval.
“We have to send out the letter to the right appropriate people, which is the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, as well as with the Nunavut government,” Alexander said Wednesday.
The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board said it has yet to receive an application from the Amarok Hunters and Trappers Association.
Iqaluit will host one of Nunavut’s prized bowhead whale hunts next summer, giving Inuit hunters there a rare chance to harvest one of the giants of the sea.
Next summer will mark the first time in recent history that Iqaluit hunters will get to harvest one of the massive marine mammals, which can feed hundreds of Inuit in the area with meat and muktaaq.
“It’s very important. It’s been tradition for a long time. I always wanted to go bowhead whale hunt, if I got a chance,” said longtime Iqaluit hunter Solomon Awa, who has never hunted a mighty bowhead.
While whaling has long been a revered tradition in Inuit culture, which emphasizes the ability to live off the land, the bowhead whale was completely off-limits to hunting for decades. As a result, many modern Inuit in Nunavut have not had a chance to go after the large whales.
But as the whale’s numbers started to rebound in the mid-1990s, hunters have been slowly getting their chance. Today, the bowhead whale remains the only animal for which Inuit communities need a licence to hunt.
Nunavut’s Inuit land-claims organization, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., has fought hard to open up the harvest.
The group convinced the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board to recommend raising the annual quota from two to three whales a year. That recommendation was approved by federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea last year.
“It’s very important for younger people to learn. I mean, they have enough distractions already in today’s modern world,” said Gabriel Nirlungayuk, Nunavut Tunngavik’s wildlife director.
“There’s nothing like it to go out on the land, and coming home with dinner.”
So every year, three Nunavut communities are awarded licences to hunt one bowhead whale each. This year, hunts took place in Kugaaruk, Pond Inlet and Repulse Bay, with whalers in the latter two communities having successful hunts.
While hunters like Awa say they are excited with the opportunity, they are quick to note there is no guarantee that they will actually take home a whale.
“Yes, it’s going to be really fun having a bowhead whale hunt here in Iqaluit; [it is] like we’re given a licence [for] opportunity. The question is, are we going to be successful?” Awa said.
“It’s all up to the environment. It’s not up to us. That’s how we always look at it.”
The Amarok Hunters and Trappers Organization in Iqaluit, which is organizing next summer’s hunt, has not yet set an exact date.
Vice-chairman David Alexander said he expects a lot of hunters will want to be in the whaling crew that will go out onto the water and pursue a bowhead.
“It won’t be an easy task as to who will be able to … to be out on this hunt. Hopefully we’ll be able to do the right selection process to get the right people,” Alexander said.
Hunting, butchering work
Awa said he hopes to be part of the whaling crew, but he added that he’ll be happy doing whatever he can.
“The hunting part is fun, but the butchering part is also a lot of work,” he said.
While whale hunting is tied to the Inuit people’s past, the technology hunters use today is modern — a grenade is speared into the giant animal in order to avoid a drawn-out death, Nirlungayuk said.
“You try and aim it for either the brain or the heart or the lungs or both. There’s a gap, about a five- to six-second gap, and then it explodes,” Nirlungayuk said.
Alexander said the chance to hunt a bowhead whale will make up for years in which the beluga whale harvest proved to be disappointing.
He added that the hunt will give Inuit hunters a chance to pass on traditional knowledge to young people, while hopefully feeding a lot of people.
Original article here.