Uutuit (Walruses on Top of Ice)
Condition: No condition to be noted.
Description by Artist: No description by artist found.
Notes from DaVic Gallery: Aiviq, the walrus, is an enormous member of the puijiit — Those That Come Up to the Surface to Breathe, once hunted and feared by the Inuit. While a single walrus represents an immense amount of meat and hide, it is also a formidable opponent, powerful and agile in the water, and armed with impressive tusks easily able to penetrate a skin-covered kayak. They are considered the most ferocious marine animals by Inuit hunters.
Inuit observed that the life cycle of the walrus is similar to the ringed seal and the caribou. During the dark period, bull walruses may live somewhat closer to shore, but females and young stay out amongst the moving floes. In the deep winter they are often found far out in the moving ice. When they arrived, families moved out closer to the floe edge for ease of access to the hunting grounds. For several weeks hunters could concentrate on hunting walrus out on the moving ice.
Like seals, walrus need to make holes in the ice in order to breathe and to come out on top of the ice. The movements of walrus were used to judge future wind and weather conditions. When the wind begins to blow from the south, the sea ice moves in close to the land fast ice, and it is time to hunt for walruses on the moving ice. If the animals are found near the edge of the moving ice, the south wind will last only a short time, while if they are deep in the moving ice, farther from the land, the wind can be expected to last for a longer period. When conditions were right, the walrus would stop to feed in large groups. Walrus are feeding if they kick up, exposing their hind flippers when they dive. These deep dives send them down to the bottom where they can search for food; shallower dives are made when the walrus are merely moving around, but not feeding. Hunters would wait until the walrus had been under water for a reasonable amount of time, before advancing to the edge of the ice. This is because the walrus have an acute sense of hearing, and if the hunters were to advance as soon as the animals went under, their footsteps would be easily audible and the walruses would swim away.
Hunters had to watch the behaviour of walruses very carefully in order to be able to harpoon one successfully. When a walrus surfaces, particularly if its head is mostly exposed, it is “standing” vertically in the water with its eyes open, carefully surveying the scene for predators. Gradually, it will sink back down until only its snout and back are exposed. After it has taken two breaths, it often takes the third and then floats with its eyes closed, at which point the hunter can advance rapidly to attack. While it is breathing in, it is unable to hear clearly and this offers another opportunity for the predator.
Careful observers can distinguish different types of walruses in the water. The older animals have lighter coloured skin, float with their bodies stretched out evenly at the water’s surface, and are often more peaceful. A dark-skinned younger walrus, on the other hand, may be much harder to catch:
When they surface and float with their lower section elevated higher than others and their nuzzle [snout] is darker than the rest, we used to be told that we should leave these types of animals alone, even if they are old walruses… when you get close they will continue to attack you… You must pay attention to their breathing and you must know the characteristic of the walrus when it surfaces and floats around. You can tell whether it is going to be difficult to catch or whether it is ferocious.
Please refer to picture #3 with Letter Size sheet for size reference …