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 of 16,000 subsists primarily on a diet of marine mammals, the meat from which 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 is dependent on this activity, 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 on it, the Chukchi people’s diet and livelihood depends almost entirely on hunting sea creatures such as seals, walruses, and most controversially, whales.
The climate of Chukotka is much too cold to farm, so the Chukchi people depend on whale meat for sustenance.
The International Whaling Commission, which regulates whale hunting globally, grants special permissions to indigenous populations who depend on whale hunting for survival. The IWC grants the Chukchi people an annual quota of 136 gray whales. The whale 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 do sport such as rowing in annual competitions, and also regularly perform rituals to honor the whales and walruses on which they depend. They also occasionally collect seagull eggs from harrowing 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 there in the north. The Northern Chukotka sled dog is a trusted ally to the Chukchi people, and also aids in carrying heavy loads and even rescue operations.
Extra meat is stored in underground “ice cellars”, which are situated deep down, where there is permafrost.
We meet a bone carver, who draws on and carves whale and walrus bones. Also, we meet a traditional guttural folk singer.
In the Chukotka autonomous okrug, they don’t say that they “kill” whales and the like, but rather they “take” them from nature, and they are always grateful for what it provides.