Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America
April 8, 2000 - Issue 07

Canada's Inuits Ask to Hunt Endangered Whale

TORONTO (Reuters) - An Inuit native community in northern Canada said it had asked the federal government for permission to hunt and kill a Bowhead whale, an endangered species that was pursued to near extinction in the 1800s.

The 850-member Inuit community from Southampton Island in Hudson Bay said it wanted a one-off opportunity to hunt a Bowhead whale, a giant mammal the size of a city bus, a tradition the group said it last practiced in the 1930s.

Bowhead is considered the staple diet of the Inuit.

"We do not do this for sport, we eat it. It is a traditional food for our people. We need the food,'' Louie Bruce of the Corel Harbor Hunters and Trappers Association told Reuters.

Bruce said permission to hunt the whale was made to the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, the wildlife regulator in the Inuit's Nunavut territory, who has passed the request on to the federal fisheries ministry in Ottawa.

He said if permission was granted the hunt would take place once the ice had melted -- sometime in July.

"Our elders hunted the whale with the Americans and the Scottish a long time ago and the community has waited for a long time for this,'' Bruce said.

Canada banned commercial hunting in 1972 but earned the wrath of the international community when it granted permission on two occasions since 1996 to Inuit communities in Repulse Bay area and Baffin Island to hunt Bowhead whales.

The Bowhead's numbers are estimated at about 650 in the eastern Arctic region. But Bruce said, ``We believe their numbers have been increased because four were spotted inside (Corel) harbor recently.''

Dark blue areas are where bowheads can be found

Make A Whale Mobile

You will need:

  • Strong thread or nylon line and a packet of large-eyed needles
  • Heavy paper
  • Colored pencils, paints or crayons
  • Optional: a piece of driftwood, or a wire coat hanger
  • Trace or draw freehand whales and other sea animals, or print out the whales from the links below, onto heavy paper. (Tracing up against a sunlit window works wells). Be sure to trace the features on both sides of the figure.
  • Cut out the figures.
  • Color the whales on both sides.
  • Using a needle, make a hole in the top of each whale.
  • Thread a length of string through the hole.
  • Attach each whale to a cutout of an iceberg, a piece of driftwood, or to a wire coat hanger.
  • Adjust the position of the threads to balance the mobile.
  • Hang and admire.

Blue Whale

Bowhead Whale

Gray Whale

Pygmy Right Whale

Right Whale

Whale Tales

The Bowhead Whale is a species restricted to the colder waters of the Northern Hemisphere, and is rarely far from ice. They migrate northwards, following cracks in the ice in the spring, and then southwards again in the autumn as the sea freezes over.

Classification: The Bowhead Whale, Balaena mysticetus, was classified by Linnaeus in 1758, meaning 'mustached sea monster'.

Local Names: Greenland Right Whale; Greenland Whale; Great Polar Whale; Arctic Whale; Arctic Right Whale. The common name is derived from the extreme arching of the lower jaw.

Description: This is a large, stocky whale with no dorsal and a huge head. Though calves are born blue-black, adults are black in color, with a white/cream ‘chin’ on the forward part of the lower jaw. This lighter patch may contain black spotting. Occasionally there is a similar light area on the tail stock. Flippers are small and rounded, and a small eye is set at the angle of the jaw. Females are generally larger than males, with average length being between 14-15m (the longest recorded was 19m), and weighing 50-60 tonnes. The Bowhead Whale has the longest baleen plates of all baleen whales, typically reaching 4.3m in length, with around 700 plates per animal.

Recognition at sea: A large whale with no dorsal can only be a Right or a Bowhead. To discern between the two, the Bowhead's white 'chin' is absent in Right Whales. At a distance, Bowheads do not have the head callosities that are common on Right Whales. The blow is bushy, V-shaped, and up to 6m high.

Habitat: The Bowhead Whale is wholly in Arctic or sub-Arctic waters, occurring mainly in shallow water close to land. However, the species will swim in whatever depth is necessary in order to follow the retreating ice edge.

Food & Feeding: Bowheads feed in much the same way as Gray Whales, in that they are bottom feeders, but do so in water of less than 30m in depth. They are also skimmers, intaking food at the surface by swimming slowly along with the mouth open. They normally take a variety of organisms, including copepods, steropods and euphausiids.

Behavior: Bowhead Whales often travel in groups of three or less in the spring, but larger groups of around 50 animals are common during the autumn migration. Breaching, lob-tailing and flipper-slapping are rare but not unheard of, and the whales are well-known for their ability to break air holes through ice of less than 0.3m (about 12 in.) thick.

Longevity: Unknown, but a freshly-killed Bowhead Whale being processed in Alaska in 1995 was found to have two stone harpoon blades lodged in its flesh. These harpoon blades were replaced by the electric harpoon in the late 1800s, so it is possible that the whale was over a century old. In addition, new evidence has suggested that Bowheads can live for 130 years.

Estimated Current Population: Less than 8,500 animals. Vulnerable.

The Influence of Man: Bowhead Whales were a prime target for whalers, being slow swimmers and yielding good quantities of oil and baleen. Populations were decimated quickly because of the species' ease of capture, and have been under protection from commercial whaling since 1975. Around 50 are still taken every year by Eskimos as a staple food source, and despite early exploitation, it is thought that the Bowhead Whale is recovering adequately.

How to Draw a Whale-step by step

Bowhead Whale

Enchanted Learning-bowhead

Whale Thematic Unit

back to the What's New page

Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.

Canku Ota is a copyright of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.

The "Canku Ota - A Newsletter Celebrating Native America" web site and its design is the Copyright © 1999 of Paul C. Barry. All Rights Reserved.