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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
The Inuit case for whaling
Inuits, BBC
Remoteness means Inuits have kept traditional ways

For the Inuit people living in the polar regions of North America, whaling is a way of life, a central part of their culture that provides a vital source of protein in their diet.


If we didn't have [whale meat], we'd have to camp next to the McDonald's in Anchorage or Seattle or somewhere

Arnold Brower
Whaling captain
The 10,000 Inuit in Alaska are allowed to kill 50 bowheads a year but - at this week's International Whaling Commission conference in Japan - the host nation pushed through a ban on all indigenous hunts in retaliation for restrictions on its own whaling.

Arnold Brower Jnr, a whaling captain from Barrow in Alaska, told BBC News Online that the whale hunt plays a vital role in the lives of the Inuit, making up over half the meat that they eat.

"If we didn't have it, we'd have to camp next to the McDonald's in Anchorage or Seattle or somewhere," he says. "If you take the whale hunt away, you take away our culture."

He rejects the idea of outside interference in their whaling, and says it's a "human rights issue" for the Inuit.

"They have no right to tell us not to eat, that we can't have our breakfast, lunch, or dinner."

Lifestyle preserved

The Inuit hunt a variety of animals for meat - including caribou, walrus, seal and geese - depending on the season and the migratory movements of the species.

Japanese whaler
Japan is blocking hunting by indigenous people in retaliation for curbs on its own whaling
Arnold Brower says that if the Inuit tried to make up the loss of whale meat by hunting other species, "we'd probably deplete the caribou stocks fairly fast".

The remoteness of the Inuit has made it easier for them to hold on to their traditional ways than aboriginal peoples to the south - in many reserves, imported shop-bought food and western traditions have caused major changes in lifestyles and cultures.

Over-reliance on processed high-fat foods is believed to be one major factor behind a rapid increase in diabetes among North American native populations.

By contrast, the hunting traditions of the Inuit are alive and relatively healthy.

Landing the whale

Whale-hunts are governed by strict rules both in Alaska and the Canadian autonomous territory of Nunavut, developed both from traditions and the demands of conservation.


We're not doing anyone a favour by saying, 'yes, you've hunted for thousands of years, carry on doing so' - and then the resource will be gone forever

David Hocking
Suzuki Foundation
The hunt in Alaska is usually carried out in small wooden boats covered in seal-skin, although small modern boats are used in Nunavut.

Once the whale is caught, it is quickly hauled to land and butchered before the heat from the body cooks and partially spoils the meat.

Ceremonies and festivals take place while the whale is landed.

"Everything is used except for the guts," says Arnold Brower. Bones are left in the sun to bleach and are used in ceremonies or as tourist attractions.

'Devastating loss of species'

Mr Brower says the Inuit have good scientific research showing that the bowhead whales are not an endangered species, and their hunt is sustainable. But conservationists take a very different view.

"Killing of whales has to be taken in the broadest context of the state of the world's oceans," says David Hocking of the Suzuki Foundation in Canada, set up by the internationally renowned scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki.

"United Nations studies show there's been a devastating loss of species on land and in oceans - we are in a dire situation and need to be very careful how we manage things.

"We're not doing anyone a favour by saying, 'yes, you've hunted for thousands of years, carry on doing so' - and then the resource will be gone forever."

Ben Kovic, the chairman of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, is responsible for approving the hunting programmes pursued in the very limited harvest carried out in the autonomous Canadian territory.

'Sustainable' harvest

The Inuit of Nunavut have only killed five bowhead whales since 1991, under a strict quota from the Canadian Government - it left the IWC in 1982, partly as a result of pressure from the Inuit.

Canada believes such a limited harvest is sustainable - there are an estimated 600 bowhead whales in Canadian waters.

There is also regular hunting of the beluga and narwhals which have much larger populations in the Arctic and are not subject to IWC regulations.

"People on the opposing side say we shouldn't be doing it," says Ben Kovic. "But for aboriginal people across the circumpolar world, we have country food on our table every day to survive and feed our families, so that we can live and be proud of it and be part of the land."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Clive Myrie in Japan
"The conservation lobby won"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Sea change?
Should the ban on whaling be lifted?
See also:

24 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
23 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
20 May 02 | Science/Nature
21 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
25 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
27 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
Links to more Asia-Pacific stories are at the foot of the page.


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