3 May, 2000

Hunting Narwhals


May 3, 2000

Daily Data (20:30):

Lat. 6856.956N

Long. 03326.99W

Heading 316.074

Air Temp. -12.86C 8.87F

True Wind Dir. 202.5

True Wind Speed 11.1

USCGC Healy Facts:

Fuel Capacity: 1,220,915 gallons (4,621,000 liters)

Speed: 17 knots @ 147 RPM

Endurance: 16,000NM @ 12.5 Knots

Dear Everyone,

This morning the Healy is in an area of large ice floes. A helicopter reconnaissance flight is going out when visibility improves to search for a way into Home Bay following as many leads as possible. We are 66 miles from Home Bay and around 40 to 50 miles from fast ice (ice attached to land). We are searching for level ice for running tests for the Healy's icebreaking capabilities.

Yesterday when we were beset or pinched (stuck), the ice essentially failed (buckled) under excessive pressure to form its own ridge surrounding the Healy. One of the trafficability studies was able to obtain useful data from this experience.

I spent a couple hours with James Qillaq and Stevie Audlakiak, the Healy’s Inuit guides, this morning talking to them about their personal knowledge and experiences with Narwhals. Narwhals are enormous, around 400 to 500 lbs., James says. They come to the surface to spout and take in air. Stevie tells me they can dive and remain under the surface for up to one hour. Narwhals look like brown and white spotted whales and have a lonely, long and straight, spiraled tusk protruding from their head.

What do Narwhals eat? When they catch a Narwhal and want to know what it ate, Stevie says they cut open its stomach. That is how they know that Narwhals feed from Halibut, Turbot, Cod and Herring. Both James and Stevie say Narwhals don't hunt or eat with their one unicorn-type tusk. "How would they get their food off?" Stevie asks. He goes on to say that they suck in their food. Narwhals don't have teeth.

How are Narwhals hunted? Both James and Stevie tell me they use rifles and harpoons to hunt Narwhals and that the gun has to be powerful enough to kill one. "What types of guns do you use?" I ask. Stevie tells me that 300, 303, 375, 2506 guns or stronger are best and that these will kill a Narwhal. In some cases, they use a small rifle to shoot nearby the Narwhal to make it dive or to wound it to slow it down so that they can kill it with a harpoon.

When Narwhals come to the surface, the Inuit shoot to kill and will harpoon it at the same time to keep it floating. This is for easy retrieval. How do they do that? They use thick ropes of two sizes. One is long and one is of medium length for providing for a variety of distances. They attach floats to the ropes. Generally the hunters work with a partner. When Stevie hunts, he takes his two sons or one of his sons and his friend.

The catch of the Narwhal is shared, but the hunter always takes the tusk. With smiles on their faces, both James and Stevie say the best part of the Narwhal is the skin. "It is really good," Stevie says, "We eat it raw or boil it." Everyone gets something. If any skin is left over, it is cleaned in salt water. This, Stevie emphasizes, is very important because it will dry out and shrivel if it is cleaned in fresh water. A little fat must be left on the skin for flavor and then it is vacuum-sealed and frozen.

The second best part of the Narwhal is the meat. James tells me, "Narwhal meat is dark meat. We dry the meat." Both our guides are smiling when they tell me that Narwhal meat is very good. When they eat the dried Narwhal meat, they spread it with a little fresh Narwhal or seal fat. Stevie thinks the liver is also very good, but James is sitting to my left laughing and shaking his head. "I don't like it!" he says. I also share that I do not generally enjoy liver.

Because they are valued, highly sought and bring more or less US $350 per foot, the hunter usually sells the tusk. As with Polar Bear skins, Americans must have a permit to take the tusk home to the United States. Some Narwhal, James and Stevie explain, have two tusks, but it is uncommon. They have both seen such Narwhal. They tell me that when a rare Narwhal is discovered, all the hunters want to hunt it. These unique tusks are highly prized. One pair sold for US $56,000 last year and they generally go for US $35,000 to $55,000 for a set.

Stevie's eyes are sparkling with pride are he tells me that his largest Narwhal tusk was 11'- 3". The largest one James has retrieved was 7’ with the average tusk being from 5 to 7 feet in length. This year Stevie shares that his best Narwhal tusk was 8’ and "not really straight" as he illustrates a curve with his hand. Because of its uniqueness, it's obvious that he views this as an exceptional trophy.

There are quotas, our guides tell us, per village or area for Polar Bears and Narwhals. In James’ hometown of Clyde River, Baffin Island, they are limited to roughly 50 Narwhals each year. Their quota for bears is about 21 annually. When I ask James about the population of the area he replies, "It's 836. Mostly kids. Around 50 hunters."

Where Stevie lives on Broughton Island, he says the limit is 22 bears. The local people can have 12 and the remaining 10 are for the sport hunters. Stevie does guiding and outfitting for adventurers and explains that the sport hunters keep the fur and scull for taxidermy and that he gets to keep what's left of the bear.

James Qillaq shakes his head in amazement when Stevie Audlakiak states that there is no quota on Narwhals for his village. They can take as many as they want as long as they report it. As we discussed this further, it is apparent to me that they are keeping official records, answering questionnaires, on the trade-off that they may take as many Narwhals as they need. The reports must be completed each time they hunt. The reports ask for documentation on, for example, how many Narwhals are caught, how many wounded, how many are male or female, location, distances and how many Narwhals were seen.

The condition allowing for unlimited Narwhal hunting for the completion of reports is that they cannot waste anything, that every part of the Narwhal must be used. Anything that is not eaten or cannot be used is fed to the sled dogs. If any part of the Narwhal is left behind, then it must be reported.

Stevie tells me that officials for "Fisheries and Oceans" monitor their Narwhal hunting and reporting. If any of the hunters to do not execute reports or leave any part of the Narwhal unused, then the officials can take their guns, boats, or whatever they use for hunting.

It's not easy to catch Narwhals. A group of boats go out together. Stevie tells me that a Narwhal hunt will occur on a Saturday when no one is working. Every boat in Broughton Island will be occupied. There are up to 72 boats at one time. They catch approximately 70 to 72 Narwhals in one year.

Stevie's hunting season is year-round. He has a 24-foot canoe with a 65-horse power Evinrude motor. Stevie also has a 26-foot wooden and fiberglass boat with a 130-horse power Yamaha engine. James, coming from much further north than Stevie, has a short hunting season of only three months. James has a 22-foot canoe and a 40-horse power motor.

Stevie Audlakiak's Inuit word for today is based upon the Inuit philosophy of life: Negeganek (nang nee rrrhhh nook). It's what is done when everyone goes hunting and the catch of the hunt is shared throughout the village. But it's not just hunting. It's with everything. Stevie says, "That's our life," and James is nodding his head in full agreement.

Best regards,


For photos and more: ../tea_kolbfrontpage.html For further information:

../ http://www.uscg.mil./pacarea/healy

Stevie Audlakiak, Sandra Kolb, and James Qillaq in the Healy's Bridge. photo by Douglas Griggs

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