winter hunt off
© Images and text by Carsten Egevang
Most harvested seabird in Greenland
During winter, the Brünnich’s Guillemot Uria lomvia is found in “The Open Water Area” – the large marine area off the coast of Southwest Greenland. Here, the sea surface remains ice-free all year around. The area is of international importance for Atlantic seabirds and supports millions of birds throughout the winter season, including Brünnich’s Guillemots. Studies indicate that most of the birds in the Open Water Area originate from other places than Greenland – namely the guillemot populations from Svalbard, Iceland, and Russia.
Most hunted seabird
The Brünnich’s Guillemot – or Appa as it is called in Greenlandic - is a much-desired seabird in Greenland. With a mass around one-kilo and dark, rich-flavoured meat the guillemot is a popular meal.
Popular game bird
The Brünnich’s Guillemot is the most harvested seabird in Greenland. It breeds in large colonies mainly in the northern parts. Most of the hunting takes place during winter in Southwest Greenland.
Small boats - large waters
The hunt itself takes place from dinghies and other small boats with outboard motors. Only a few hours of light are available in the Arctic winter months and the hunters have to take full advantage of the little daylight during midday. They leave the harbour of Nuuk during the morning when it is still pitch dark and arrive offshore west of Nuuk in about one hour. Here the guillemots are found spread over the sea in small flocks. The hunters approach the birds at low speed until close enough to make the shot. In the same area, the Little Auks occur in large numbers but the small body size of this auk species usually does not make it attractive to the bird hunters – they are not considered worth the effort and the price of a gun cartridge.
The guillemots are shot with steel pellets on the water and taken on board with a small catcher.
The Guillemot has a long "taxi" - it needs to run on the water to pick up speed when taking off.
Hunting of Brünnich’s Guillemots is only allowed outside the breeding season. Formerly, the guillemot hunt would take place throughout the autumn, winter, and spring seasons but concern for negative population development has brought a stop to the spring hunt. Today (2017) the open season for hunting is between mid-October and end of February and there is a bag limit of 30 birds per day. In other words, the period the birds can be hunted – and the number of individuals – has markedly reduced during the last decade.
At the local marked
The guillemots are both shot “for the pot” (the domestic household) and to be sold at the local market. Here hunters bring the birds directly after returning from the hunt. Others are employed as “pluckers” at the market, where one person removes the feathers of the bird whereas others use a machine to remove the down.
To the people of Greenland, eating guillemot is as traditional as the English tradition of turkey at Christmas.
The traditional and most popular way of preparing Guillemot in Greenland is as a soup – a Guillemot Suaasat. The soup usually is made with rice but potatoes and onions may also be added. The rice thickens the soup absorbing the fat of the birds giving it a ripe taste. Guillemot is a highly popular dish in Greenland – a tradition linked to the winter season in southern Greenland.
The photo reportage “The Guillemot winter hunt off Nuuk” is part of the project Seabird Harvest in the North Atlantic. Images included in the reportage are the result of visits by Carsten Egevang to the Nuuk in 2005 and 2015. A warm “qujanaq” goes to the hunters and to the Lyberth Family in Nuuk.