The Hunt of a Lifetime

The subcutaneous fat of the Bowhead whale fin (Muktuk).

Part 2:
Reaping the Rewards

The Muktuk from a 32.5 foot long bowhead is being enjoyed by residents in Taloyoak and its surrounding communities. A couple weeks ago we posted about the preparation for the hunt. Now the Muktuk is all distributed. It will be the first time many Taloyoak residents will try this traditional food of their ancestors.

Muktuk is eaten raw–the fatty flesh dissolved in the mouth and the chewy skin gnawed at until the flavour is gone. The best part for many Inuit, is the chewy flesh.

Hunting this particular whale called for a team of hunters and four boats. Elder and Canadian Ranger David Nanook captained the expedition. He explained over the phone how they managed to catch the whale.

Henry Lyall was the first to spot the bowhead swimming in the shallow waters of a bay in the Gulf of Boothia. It was swimming close to shore, its giant body creating waves that crashed onto the beach. The team chased the whale for nearly an hour before it surfaced within throwing range.

At that moment Nanook gave the command to harpoon the whale. The harpoons they use have floating devices attached, so when the whale dives it can be followed. Nanook’s boating partner, David Tulurialik, was the first hunter to harpoon the whale with one of these.

Finally, when the whale resurfaced, another hunter lodged a special harpoon deep into its head. This final harpoon has a little bomb attached. It ensures that the catch is dead. The kill–from the first order to throw harpoons to the bomb exploding–took the Taloyoak team under 10 minutes!

Between six and seven in the evening, the whale was dead, but the work was far from over. Next the crew had to transport the giant corpse back to the campsite, 10 kilometers away. Nanook’s wife Rhoda was there to welcome them with the other women and children.

There were celebrations all around. “We were quite lonely at the camp,” Rhoda said, so they were happy to hear the celebrations in Taloyoak over the radio. People were riding around on anything with wheels and an engine. They even had a spontaneous parade of vehicles.

The next day, they packed up their things and headed back to Taloyoak. A team of butchers cut up the meat and haulers were sent from Taloyoak to bring the meat home.

David says this was a great experience, because it helped him better understand and appreciate his ancestors. A whale is a very complicated animal to hunt, and they did it without any of the technology used today. “They knew how to stay out of trouble and deal with this kind of situation.” It was the first time in living memory that Taloyoak participated in a hunt. David was happy to be a part of it.