Weaving together Inuit knowledge and western science: a mixed-methods case study of qilalugaq (beluga whale) in Quaqtaq, Nunavik
The harvest and consumption of country food is a cornerstone of Inuit culture, sovereignty, food security, and nutrition. Qilalugaq (beluga whales) (Delphinapterus leucas (Pallas, 1776)) are hunted across the Canadian Arctic and are an especially important food source for Inuit communities in Nunavik, northern Québec, Canada. The presence of environmental contaminants and nutrients in beluga has been the subject of recent research interest, including the role of selenoneine and its interactions with methylmercury. Using interviews conducted in Quaqtaq and analyses of beluga tissue samples harvested by hunters, this study aimed to bridge Inuit knowledge and scientific knowledge to understand how beluga hunting, preparation, and consumption practices may explain the different levels of selenoneine found in Nunavimmiut (Inuit from Nunavik). It also sought to characterize the health, social, and cultural importance of beluga and factors influencing its consumption. Research findings confirmed the important role of beluga in Nunavimmiut culture, food security, and nutrition. Findings documented gender based consumption practices, including consumption of the selenoneine-rich beluga tail exclusively by women, which may explain previously documented gender differences in blood selenoneine levels. This study demonstrates the utility of weaving Inuit knowledge and scientific knowledge to inform future environmental health research, public health communications, and wildlife co-management.