The Chukchi are an indigenous people living in Russia's far northeast. As the climate is too inhospitable to grow crops, the sea has always been their main source of food. The population subsists primarily on a diet of marine mammals, whose meat provides locals with enough fat-rich food to see them through the harsh winters. By and large, hunting species such as the grey whale is illegal. However, as the Chukchi's survival and traditional way of life are dependent on this, the International Whaling Commission grants them an annual whaling quota. Moreover, the meat from these animals is not sold but distributed among the local population for free. In Russia’s far northeast lies an isolated region known as the Chukotka autonomous okrug. The indigenous people there, known at Chukchi, number around 16,000. Despite public disapproval and a general ban, the Chukchi people’s diet and livelihood depend almost entirely on hunting sea animals such as seals, walruses and, most controversially, whales. It is much too cold to farm in Chukotka's climate, so the Chukchi people depend on whale meat for sustenance. The International Whaling Commission, which regulates whale hunting globally, grants special permission to indigenous populations who depend on whale hunting for survival. The IWC grants the Chukchi people an annual quota of 136 grey whales. The meat cannot be sold and is distributed among the Chukchi people for free. Whale hunting is certainly dangerous, and there have been many injuries and deaths. The Chukchi people engage in sport such as rowing in annual competitions. They also regularly perform rituals to honor the whales and walruses on which they depend. Occasionally, they collect seagull eggs from dizzying cliffside nests. The Northern Chukotka sled dog also plays an important role in the region. Travel by sled dog is the most reliable mode of transport in the north. The Northern Chukotka sled dog is a trusted ally to the Chukchi people, helping them in transporting heavy loads and even conducting rescue operations. Extra meat is stored in deep underground ice cellars where there is permafrost. We meet a bone carver who draws on and carves whale and walrus bones. We also meet a traditional guttural folk singer. In the Chukotka autonomous okrug, they don’t say they “kill” whales and the like, but rather they “take” them from nature and are always grateful for what they provide.

New films straight to your inbox the day they’re posted! By submitting your information, you agree to receive emails from RTD Documentary Channel. You can opt out at any time.