Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Rene Kukkuvak was out polar-bear hunting with his family on Thanksgiving weekend when he came across something he had never seen before.

The hunters were 60 kilometres north of Kugaaruk in western Nunavut when they found four whale carcasses on the beach, waves swirling behind them.

“We stopped to take a look around for bears and I can see a seagull on top of a rock. As we got closer, I figured out it was a bowhead whale,” Kukkuvak said.

Story continues below advertisement

After scanning the area in case the carcasses had attracted polar bears, the group took off only to find three more beached bowheads. Kukkuvak says the whales were “a few miles apart.”

Kukkuvak snapped photos of the dead whales and posted them on Facebook.

Steve Ferguson, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, looked at Kukkuvak’s photos and said the bowheads could have been attacked by killer whales.

He said the pictures show damage to the bowheads' tongues.

“That’s a key piece of the whales that the killer whales like to eat.”

The photos also show rake marks on the whales' sides, which Ferguson said could be from killer whale teeth.

It appears the whales were close together when they died, he said, but it is difficult to tell how all could have been killed at once. “It’s just very unusual.”

Story continues below advertisement

Ferguson said Nunavut hunters have told him over the years that groups of four to six killer whales have been known to take down a bowhead.

“Some hunters referred to them like wolves, in the sense that they would work together as a pack,” he said.

Ferguson described how a killer whale might bite a bowhead’s tail to keep it from swimming away or ram into its side to cause internal damage. It might also place itself over the bowhead’s blowhole so it can’t get air and suffocates.

Killer whales have been recorded in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait for over a century, but spotting the mammals near Kugaaruk is “pretty unusual” and points to a loss of sea ice, Ferguson said. “They’re able to go further now.”

Kugaaruk is nestled in western Nunavut between coastal mountains on the western side of the Simpson Peninsula.

Ferguson said less sea ice means killer whales can swim farther into the Kugaaruk area.

Story continues below advertisement

“It takes longer for the ice to form, so it’s really just a big playground they have now to find prey,” he said.

“Having one of the lowest sea ice summers on record may have just given the killer whales a little more time to do this.”

But Ferguson added it’s difficult to confirm whether killer whales were responsible for the bowhead deaths.

“If we had some good photographs, we probably could tell.”

One alternative is that the whales were struck by a ship, but Ferguson pointed out there isn’t much ship traffic around Kugaaruk.

“You would probably need a fairly large ship. Certainly the large iron ore carriers coming out of Baffinland at the Mary River mine would be able to kill a bowhead whale. But having said that, I can’t see how a whale struck up in Pond Inlet would somehow wash up around Kugaaruk.”

Story continues below advertisement

Ferguson said Fisheries and Oceans is working with the community to collect samples from the whales that may help to determine how they died. Nunavut’s pandemic travel restrictions only allow residents into the territory, meaning researchers can’t fly up to do fieldwork.

“Hunters and guides and people up north have done some pretty tremendous work in our place. In a lot of ways, they’ve done it better than us.”

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies