Puijiit Those That Come Up to the Surface to Breathe

The name of this group of animals expresses their lifestyle far better than any description given to them by western scientists. The puijiit, "those that come up to the surface of the water to breathe", are all the marine mammals, which, although they spend most of their lives in the water, still must surface regularly to breathe air.

The puijiit are recognized as being animals that live in the ocean and are staple prey for the Inuit. They usually cannot walk, but are capable of being in the water constantly; they not only swim on the surface, but also have the habit of diving deep under the water; they may or may not have tusks like the walrus or narwhal. Although they are water creatures, they must stick their heads out of the water to obtain air – a useful characteristic, as this is often when they are seen and harpooned or shot by Inuit hunters.

The polar bear, nanuq, is a special case within this group. While it is generally acknowledged to be an animal that walks on land, a member of the pisuktiit, the Inuit recognize that the "great white one" is also at home in the water, and therefore has some claim in belonging to the puijiit.

Nattiq
Ringed Seal

Nattiq, the ringed seal, is the mainstay of life for the Inuit across much of the Arctic. Ringed seals may be found at almost every Inuit community (with the exception of Baker Lake/ Qamanittuaq, which lies inland), and are used for eating, feeding sled dogs, making boots, mitts, and other clothing, providing blubber to fuel the oil lamp or qullik, and a myriad of other uses. While in English we identify "seal" as a group of several different, but related, animals, there is no single word for "seal" in Inuktitut. Instead, the Inuit have a specific name for each species, for each has unique characteristics, different Arctic distributions, and a separate range of uses for the people who hunt it. When one hears the word "seal" in the Arctic, it often refers to nattiq, the most common and widespread northern seal.

Ugjuk Bearded Seal
Aiviq Walrus
Arviq Bowhead Whale
Qilalugaq Beluga and Narwhal


To southerners, snow-white belugas and long-tusked narwhals may seem like radically different animals; however, the Inuit often group these two small whales together under the term qilalugaq. Western science, in fact, does the same, with the beluga and narwhal belonging to the same family, Monodontidae ("one-toothed"), the white whales.

Qaulluqtaq Beluga
Qirniqtaq, Tuugaalik Narwhal
Nanuq Polar bear
Aarluk Orca
Qasigiaq Harp Seal
Qairulik Harbour Seal
Apa Hooded Seal