The CBC carried frustrating news back in November. In a bay near Bylot Island and Pond Inlet, on Baffin Island in Canada's North, hundreds of narwhals were trapped by sea ice. The elders from the local Inuit communities advised that these whales were doomed to drown as their breathing holes of open water froze over. The whales would be unable to swim far enough under the ice to reach open water.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada realized that the nearest icebreaker was many days' travel away, and there was no other reason to divert it to Pond Inlet. Reluctantly, the DFO agreed with the elders' call. Local Inuit hunters would be permitted to harvest the doomed whales, and tag each whale killed, as is done in the annual permitted harvest. Narwhals are not rare in those waters, and the DFO believes that an Inuit whale hunting quota will support the community and its traditions. (See http://www.cbc.ca/canada/north/story/2008/11/24/pond-narhwal.html)
There were hundreds of whales killed in this hunt, which is bad news if you're a whale lover. For example, Paul Watson (of the Sea Shepherd Society) called this culling one of the most savage and disgraceful crimes against nature imaginable. He was condemned by Fisheries Minister Gail Shea and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, the MP for Nunavut, who said that Watson "crossed the line beyond reasonable dissent." http://www.cbc.ca/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2008/12/09/watson-resign.html
But there is good news as well because of this hunt, well worth reading about as reported at http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2008/12/22/narwhal-hunger.html
Because the hunters shared the whale meat among this community of 1300 people, for the next month no one has put a call over the radio asking for food because they are hungry. As well, the nursing station and the RCMP report fewer injuries and crimes.
It's worth noting that it took 600 whale carcasses to supply these people with sufficient food to give them the benefit of abundance that is expected in my own seashore community in Canada's southern waters. People in Victoria BC have food banks and social programs and for those of us who have an embarrassment of wealth there are gyms as well as miles of hilly roads for jogging off our unwanted pounds of flesh.
It's not my place to condemn the hunters, or my fat suburban neighbours, or even Watson as a whale defender. Lord knows, whales around the world sure need defending. I'd sure like to see some harsh words from an activist about how people actually live in the North, and how much their lives are improved when the DFO approves the application of hundreds of pounds of food and hours & hours of good hard work which supports the Inuit culture and traditions.
It is indeed disgraceful in this day and age for humans to kill whales in these numbers largely because Canada is not maintaining sufficient icebreakers to serve the needs of Northern communities. And it is unacceptable that any Canadian community could be in such need that a whale slaughter is good news.