Column: Life on Earth

This week’s topic: Sea Ice and the Inuit Population

By Mia Currie

Sea ice is a vital component of the Arctic and Subarctic coastal environments. It is much more than just frozen water as it holds pockets of brine which provide the habitat with bacteria and algae. Due to the constant rising of water temperatures, brine tunnels form through the ice and, in turn, alter the structure. This affects the supply of important nutrients and food to the ocean’s ecosystem. Although it is a chain reaction based on the feeding of small water creatures, there is a long-lasting effect on the whale and seal population.

Seal, although uncommon in North America and other countries, is a vital resource for the Inuit population. The skin of the seal is used to make boots, mittens, and coats (as it is waterproof, insulating and biodegradable), the meat is eaten as it can feed an entire family, and the bones provide material for tools. The Inuit lifestyle is fully sustainable and eco-friendly which exceeds in comparison to sustainability in most other countries. 

Inuit hunters
Photograph by Gordon Wiltsie
Courtesy of National Geographic

The hunting of seal is a tradition passed down through generations and has been greatly impacted by the thinning of ice. Ringed seals use its sharp claws to scrape cone-shaped breathing holes in the ice called allu or aglu. Traditionally, Inuit hunters would stake out the breathing holes and capture the seals upon ascending for air. “The Inuit Hunt” has been compromised by the thinning of ice as it is no longer safe to stand on ice surfaces for extended periods of time. 

It is important to mention that the stigma behind the hunting of seals became popular through the campaign of Brigitte Bardot in 1977. The famous actress used her platform to advertise the inhumanity behind the killing of seals. She spent months doing photoshoots with baby Harp seals in hopes of turning the public against this tradition. The pictures were seen globally and have ruined the trade and exports of the Inuit populations. With a sharp decline of exports, the Inuit struggled to keep alliances with other countries and are isolated from most of the world. Pictures placed the common misconception that seal hunting is the massacre of baby seals, which is inherently inaccurate.

What people do not see are the true intentions of these societies, which is to survive in their environment by not harming the ecosystem around them. The damages caused by global warming and the media have destroyed the Inuit’s reputation globally.