National Geographic : 2015 Nov
104 national geographic • november 2015 By Tim Folger Photographs by Ciril Jazbec Late one quiet November night in the village of Niaqornat, 300 miles above the Arctic Circle on Greenland’s west coast, the sled dogs began to howl. No one knew for sure, but some of the villagers suspected the dogs had heard the exhalations of narwhals. The whales with the spiral unicorn tusks usually swim into Uummannaq Fjord this time of year as they migrate south. The next morning most of the community’s men set out in small boats to try to bag a narwhal, as the Inuit in Greenland have done for centuries—though in this area nowadays they throw harpoons from motor- boats moving at 30 knots and finish off their quarry with high-powered rifles. That afternoon, beneath a lowering gray sky, the hunters return, dragging their boats ashore. A few more of Niaqornat’s 50 residents emerge from brightly painted wooden houses and gather on the stony beach, eager to see what the boats might hold. Among them is Ilannguaq Egede, the 41-year-old manager of the village power plant. He came here nine years ago from south Greenland, where sheep farmers far out- number whalers, to be with a Niaqornat wom- an he met on an Internet dating site. “I haven’t caught my first narwhal yet,” he says. “I’m wait- ing for this season.” Freeze-drying laundry hangs from a line in the village of Nuugaatsiaq, home to about 80 people who sup- port themselves mostly by hunting and fishing. Many houses are empty. Greenland’s small villages are declining as people abandon the old ways for new opportunities in larger towns to the south.