"Our hunting culture is at stake," said Jerry Natanine, mayor of Clyde River, a Nunavut community of about 1,000 people about midway along the eastern coast of Baffin Island.
The judicial review in Toronto is considering last June's National Energy Board approval of a Norwegian consortium's plan for a five-year program of seismic tests in Davis Strait along the island's entire length. The testing, which uses loud, high-intensity sounds to help map the sea floor and the geology underneath, is to begin this summer.
The people of Clyde River have concerns about the impact those sounds could have on the marine mammals and fish they depend on.
And they have plenty of company.
The Baffin Mayors Forum, made up of all the communities on Baffin Island, joined with Clyde River at the original energy board hearings, and regional and territorial Inuit groups agree the tests are a bad idea.
So does the Nunavut Marine Council, which represents Nunavut's wildlife management bodies.
A wide spectrum of 44 non-governmental groups and individuals are also supporting Clyde River: from Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Amnesty International to faith-based groups such as KAIROS. It's an unusual coalition, in that Inuit groups have often viewed such southern groups with suspicion.
"This is a human rights issue," said Warren Bernauer, who's helping co-ordinate Clyde River's supporters and organizing a rally with a feast of seal and whale meat outside the courthouse.
"We're still in a situation where these proposals are being shoved down the throats of the people of Nunavut."
Natanine said he hopes the judicial review will stop testing until a strategic environmental assessment is complete. That assessment, being conducted by the federal government, is to make recommendations on which areas should be open to development and which ones should remain closed.
The approval comes with conditions that include having a marine mammal observer on the seismic vessel who would be able to stop testing if an animal is spotted within 500 metres.
But scientists say spotters can miss 80 per cent of whales in an area.
Research also has suggested seismic tests are linked to a long list of stress behaviours. Fin whales have stopped singing. Sperm whales seem to grow sluggish and eat less. Most whales and dolphins leave.
One paper filed with the board suggested at least 37 marine species have been shown to be affected by seismic air-gun noise.
Natanine said his people don't oppose development. They just want answers about its possible consequences — and a better shot at reaping some of the benefits from resources under waters they consider their birthright.
"When it first started, we supported it because we saw it as an opportunity," Natanine said. "As things went on, we started realizing that the company just wants to come in and get want they want and then leave.
"We're not in support of any of that."
— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow him on Twitter at @row1960Suggest a correction