Nunavut Bowhead Whale Hunt a Sad Start to Sovereignty

By A. Michael Kundu, Director, Project SeaWolf

In 1945, Innuit whalers from Pangnirtung, Baffin Island, Canada, took their last Bowhead whale. In late July, after 50 years of cessation, Innuit whalers used a harpoon and shoulder rifles to kill a highly endangered Davis Strait/Baffin Bay Bowhead whale in Cumberland Sound, which they landed at their old whaling encampment at Kekerten Island,

The Nunavut Territory, which officially returns to sovereign Inuit rule in January 1999, is the new name of the eastern 2/3s of Canadaís Northwest Territories. The killing of this Bowhead whale was conducted in part to herald the return of Nunavut to Innu rule, and the whale will now be butchered and distributed to various Nunavut villages across the Eastern Arctic region.

Project SeaWolf considers the revitalized killing of Bowhead and other whale species as a negative manifestation of the otherwise positive movement for native self-government. Even as we are in favour of aboriginal self-determination and sovereignty, the return to traditional ways often involves the very elements that make the protection and preservation of biodiversity such a challenge for our group.

The Davis Strait/Baffin Bay stock of Bowhead whales is currently estimated by the International Whaling Commissionís Scientific Committee to include only 350 animals. In 1996, a bowhead whale was taken from the even more uncertain Foxe Basin/Hudson Strait group; a whale that was mostly discarded after it sank and raised to the surface some time later after partial decomposition.

While the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (who had representatives on location during this Pangnirtung hunt), claim that this removal will not adversely impact the stability of the Davis Strait/Baffin Bay population, Project SeaWolf empathically disagrees. The genetic diversity of a population of 350 animals is so small that even removing one animal is climactic. Additionally, Canadian marine scientists do not routinely present their research to peer review by the international experts working for the International Whaling Commission. Moreover, Canadian fisheries mis-management has already been evidenced by the collapsing cod populations off the Canadian Maritimes, while the Canadian commercial harp seal hunt has met international condemnation for its impacts against North Atlantic marine ecosystems.

Project SeaWolf recognises this new hunt as an initiative supported and spurred on by NAMMCO, the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission, a pro-whaling body that has been formed as a response to the growing international opposition to whaling world-wide. The Canadian Inuit Tapirisat has frequently argued for the right for Northern peoples to whale, regardless of conservation concerns. The Tapirisat uses the same rhetoric and publication resources as other NAMMCO nations, and through circumpolar alliances, is largely known to be working cooperatively with the funding governments of Norway and Iceland on pro-whaling advocacy initiatives.

Formed in 1992, NAMMCO includes the Faroe Islands, Norway, Iceland and Greenland, and is frequently joined in their meetings by observers and indigenous representatives from Northern Europe and North America. NAMMCO provides public relations support, funding and strategic direction for pro-whaling initiatives world-wide. Canada, Japan and Russia are additional countries considering membership in NAMMCO, whose organisational position is that all countries have a fundamental right to conduct sustainable marine mammal harvests, regardless of other nationís philosophical positions on whaling or sealing.

The continuation, and additional recommencement of cultural whaling operations across the world is very problematic, since many of these operations are conducted not for subsistence purposes, but for the revitalization of long-passed ceremonial or cultural purposes.

As we now witness in future Nunavut, the progressive nature of land claim negotiations, and the subsequent revival of the Canadian Inuit bowhead hunt and other world-wide indigenous whale harvests, will accelerate the return of a global commercial whaling industry. As a result of this hunt, the Washington State Makah whalers have strengthened their argument to whale, and in British Columbia, the Nootka will also begin a new gray whale hunt in the next few years. It is noteworthy that the Nootka First Nations have established a public relations office, the World Council for Whalers, in Port Alberni, admittedly with funding of at least $30,000 from NAMMCO member nations and Japan.

Project SeaWolf considers the Pangnirtung Bowhead hunt, if it is allowed to go unpunished, as a cavalier affront to the efforts of whale conservation worldwide. The precedent set by a nation (whether Canada or Nunavut) which disdainfully slaughters whales from a highly endangered population for purposes of cultural or ceremonial revitalization is incomprehensible. At a time that whales and their ecosystems come under new global pressures from atmospheric and marine pollution, pirate whaling, diminishing biodiversity and a host of other, undefined threats, all cultures must embrace the social evolutionary principles of global protectionism.

Whaling, not unlike the rapid deforestation of tropical rainforest, or the industrial production of ozone-depleting gases, is another abomination of our collective biodiversity-diminishing history that must, for all time, be put to rest.

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Michael Kundu, Founder & Director of Project SeaWolf

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