Greenland police to investigate beluga catch | Polarjournal
The 12 whales shot by accident amid a food shortage were distributed to the community
Two belugas (Photo: Dr Michael Wenger)

Police in eastern Greenland say they have been asked to investigate the circumstances surrounding the catch of 12 beluga whales on 29 May. It is not permitted to hunt belugas in eastern Greenland, and the investigation comes amid political calls to grant a one-time quota for the area near the town of Tasiilaq that would legalise what hunters say was accidental shootings.

The whale meat was confiscated by police when the hunters returned to land and distributed to the residents of the hamlet Kuumiut due to lack of freezer capacity, but Emanuel Nûko, a member of the national assembly for Nalerq, an Inuit nationalist party, called it “completely unacceptable” that police took game from hunters at a time when “people lack food”.

“We’re not allowed to hunt the animals that have served as the most important source of nourishment for our forebears,” Mr Nûko said in a statement. 

According to a description of the series of events provided to Sermitsiaq.AG, a news outlet, by Anders Sanimuinnaq, a representative for the hunters who were involved, the belugas that were shot were swimming with a pod of narwhals, which are legal to hunt, that passed by Kuummiut. The belugas, according to Mr Sanimuinnaq, were mistaken for narwhals amid the confusion of the chase. 

“There were so many boats that not everyone got the word to stop shooting right away, so people kept hunting for a while. The belugas were trapped in a small fjord, but the narwhals had sought refuge in the ice,” he said. 

In addition to a retroactive quota that would legalise the 29 May hunt, Mr Nûko has proposed that the national assembly begin issuing quotas for belugas elsewhere in Greenland. 

The proposal has met with what he described as a “disappointing” and “shameful” lack of support, however.

Two narwhals (Photo: Heiner Kubny)

Beluga hunting is permitted in northern and western Greenland, where the national assembly, based on advice from Naamco, an organisation that provides scientific advice to the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland and Norway about marine-mammal populations in the North Atlantic, has set a quota of 306 belugas in 2022. 

Naamco, however, estimates that the population of belugas in eastern Greenland would likely become extinct within 10 years if hunting there were permitted. That evaluation is at odds with the observations of hunters themselves, though.

“The elders say they have never seen so many belugas and narwhals in eastern Greenland,” Mr Nûko said. 

He will continue to pursue the issue when the national assembly convenes again this autumn.  

Traditionally, the catch of belugas — like other large animals — was divided and shared amongst participating hunters and their extended families according to complex rules that helped to ensure that the entire camp or community received a portion of the catch. More recently, however, the regulation of beluga hunting and changing hunting methods and equipment has seen an increasing number of being able to earn income by selling their catch at local open-air markets,

Source: Sermitsiaq.AG; Naamco
Featured image: Heiner Kubny

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