Twentieth-Century Changes in Beluga Whale Hunting and Butchering by the Kanigmiut of Buckland, Alaska

  • C. Michele Morseth
Keywords: Alaska, beluga whales, Delphinapterus leucas, butchering, ethnology, Inuit, Iñupiat, Kotzebue Sound, marine mammals


Since the late 1920s, the Kanigmiut of Kotzebue Sound have increasingly relied upon modern technology to hunt beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas). This reliance has introduced changes in hunting practices and has coincided with changes in social structure, beliefs about man's relationship to marine mammals, and the symbolic value of the beluga. The beluga hunt continues to be characterized by the Kanigmiut as an annual event during which hunters participate in a structured set of practices requiring the cooperation of nonhunting community members. Yet, in recent years, the beluga hunt has also incorporated a newer set of practices favoring non-cooperative actions and individualized decision making. These changes in hunting practices have coincided with a drastic reduction in the number of beluga in Eschscholtz Bay. Exploration of the historical development of beluga hunting and butchering practices by the Kanigmiut suggests that while the adoption of new technology has contributed to changes in community structure, it has also led to a transformation of beliefs about the significance of hunting practices for animal behavior.