Last week we received a very interesting question from a customer. He was looking at a Kayak by Jimmy Iqaluq and asked what was wrong with the seal in the back. Is it headless? What's that peg sticking out of it? Bryce decided to get more info from the source and contacted Jimmy's wife Jeenie in Sanikiluaq.
So what you are seeing is what the Inuit call an 'Avatak'. It is like a floater (you would use for fishing), but instead it is attached to the end of a harpoon 'Nikisk'. It is made of wood or caribou antler, and helps the hunter to keep track of the seal.
The reason there is no head, is because like a fish, after the seal is caught, when the hunter is on his way home (like this kayak), he will 'clean' the seal, thus removing all the insides (guts, etc..). The Inuit also cut the head off and plug the opening hole of the seal with the wooden Avatak (the floater). Plugging it keeps the air inside.
So Bryce had to ask, where do they put the head? And Jeenie told that they simply eat it!
Regarding the actual carving, it is extremely beautiful. Jimmy is a word class Inuit artist who has been in countless exhibitions around the world. The proportions are amazing and the stone is refined to a very smooth finish. It is certainly a world class carving worthy of any centrepiece.
Besides carvings, you can also find avataq in Cape dorset Inuit prints. Here is one of the examples: http://www.inuitprint.ca/products/2001-avataq-by-mary-pudlat
Further reading about avataq: