Wednesday, July 7, 2010

how to catch a whale

In Anchorage there is a cultural heritage museum dedicated to preserving and showing the original Eskimo way of life. They have live demonstrations of wood carving, dancing , storytelling and a model of Eskimo dwellings with explanations given by native Eskimos.


In the museum there are replica kayaks hanging from the ceiling and movies showing the ancient ways. This all makes for a very interesting visit, especially if you are interested in the old ways.

 The adze is one of their carving tools, this one is called "the negotiator"

What about whales? this was an important part of the way of life for the Eskimos, a whale provides food , fuel and other useful stuff like baleen  which they can use .
So how can you catch a whale from a kayak or a umiak?, well I can tell you that its not easy to get close to one of these magnificant creatures in a kayak. While we were paddling  we spotted a few whales, but as we tried to get close they just swam away, the best thing to do is to get in their way and let them come to you.
We were told by an authoritive authentic looking gentleman how they did it, and he told us that at age 4 he speared his first whale.
First they use a blanket toss to send up a child high into the sky to spy out the location of the whales, he needs to have 20 20 eyesight and accuracy, as described to us.


About 2 to 300 people are involved in this tossing and I can imagine how high this poor little tyke has to get in order to look for the whales.
When he spots one he relays the info to the hunters who speed out and try to get in the path of the whale. How do you know where the whale is going we asked? " they usually follow the land " he said, so apparently all you do is find one then get ahead of him and when he gets within harpoon distance you spear him with your harpoon. This is designed with a removable toggle on the tip which detaches once inside the whales flesh, the harpoon body is retrieved and the toggle attached to a long sinew cord keeps your catch from getting lost. If the harpoon has been thrown accurately, it penetrates just behind the blowhole and causes bleeding into the lung causing death by drowning in a short while, if not the hunter is in danger of loosing his toggle and all his sinew, which represents years of collecting and working to make the 1000 feet of cord needed to catch a whale.
Sounds like a piece of cake.
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