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Ancient Respect - Modern Slaughter

Archaeological evidence dating back thousands of years tells us of ancient whale hunting societies in the North American Arctic. The Thule Inuit, ancestors of today's Inuit, developed highly specialized hunting tools and techniques, including kayaks, umiaks and togglehead harpoons.

Inuit beliefs emphasized the importance of showing proper respect for the whales to ensure that they would always be plentiful, and the hunts would be safe and successful.

In the 1800s, Europeans and Americans began to recognize the commercial value of the Arctic's animal resources - whale oil was used as fuel and an industrial lubricant, and the strong and flexible baleen was used where plastics would be used today.

Things quickly changed. The whaling industry, operating out of Britain and New England, began large-scale operations in both the Greenland / Davis Strait area and the Bering Sea. Whales were slaughtered by the thousands!

Fleets of ships converged on the Arctic to kill every whale they could find. The blubber was stripped off to be boiled down into oil in large iron "try-pots" (Picture: above right) and the baleen was cut from the mouths of the whales. The rest of the carcass was usually left to rot or be washed out to sea on the tide.

Not only were resources quickly depleted, but the whaling crews that wintered in the Arctic interacted with Inuit society. They brought diseases and disrupted patterns and beliefs that had endured for millennia.

PICTURE TOP: A whaling scene drawn by Inuit around 1865.

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Library: Arctic, Inuit
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