Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hunting the Ice Whale

            I have always struggled with the concept of sport hunting, regardless of whether the species being hunted is abundant or not.  Killing for fun is an idea that is completely alien to me. But I have always supported subsistence hunting, at least philosophically. That position was put to the test last summer when I traveled to northern Greenland to observe a narwhal hunt by members of the local Inuit community.
            I was impressed with the traditional hunting practices they employed – handmade kayaks and harpoons thrown by hand – and by the respect they appear to have for the animals and for the health of the narwhal population. The hunters made it clear to me that in the village of Qaanaaq, the northernmost municipality on Earth, they have little access to fresh produce or packaged foods, and so they must live on whatever they can harvest by their skill and determination. 
            These photos provide a visual summary of my experience in Qaanaaq, where I left feeling comfortable with my support of subsistence hunting and with one hunter’s affirmation that, despite his wish that the village quota of 85 narwhals be doubled, no one ever continues hunting after the quota is met.

Inuit hunters scan the fjord for narwhals.
Hunter Mads Ole Kristiansen paddles off in his homemade kayak.
Mads Ole tosses his harpoon at a surfacing narwhal.
The successful hunter.
Close-up of female narwhal harvested by Inuit hunters.


  1. This is a strange question, but why does a cooked narwhal steak look exactly like it did before it was cooked? Is it something about what the skin/meat is composed of?

  2. Not a strange question at all. I'm not sure I have an adequate or accurate answer, but my understanding is that the muscle/meat of narwhals have so many blood vessels running through them that they look almost brownish (or perhaps very dark red), the same as a steak looks after cooking. I've been told that cow's liver is a similar color and for the same reason. Which may also be why narwhal steak tastes very much like the liver my mother made me eat as a child.