Early one morning in July, Jaco Evik killed a bowhead whale in the sea off Baffin Island in northeastern Canada. The 73-year-old Inuit and his crew dragged the 13-metre mammal ashore, cut it up and took it home to the remote Arctic village of Pangnirtung. There, like his forefathers before him, he celebrated his catch with 300 fellow Inuit. Elders gave long speeches and the whale's flippers, tongue and blubber-coated skin, known as muktuk, were eaten.
For 65 years, bowheads have been a protected species. But on this occasion the kill was not only legal, it was also endorsed by conservationists and scientists. Twice in the past three years, the Canadian government has given the Inuit around Baffin Island permission to hunt a bowhead whale. Its decision to relax the ban marked a watershed in scientific attitudes to indigenous knowledge. For the first time, scientists took heed of what the Inuit knew about the animals—and had to accept their claim that the bowhead whale was more abundant than supposedly scientific surveys had concluded.