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Favorite Bowhead Whales

Bowhead whales - close relatives of the northern right whales and also known as Greenland right whales - are found only in the Northern Hemisphere.

An Inuit legend says that the giant whales were the Creator's favorite animals, but they were offered to the people who needed them for survival - provided they were not killed needlessly. A special season - spring - was created, when the ice cracked and heavy mists hung over the sea. The whales would swim amongst the ice cracks, making it easy for the Inuit to capture them, and the mist hid the deed so that the Creator did not have to see the killing.

In spring, Inuit hunters pulled their umiaks and kayaks to the edge of the ice and waited. When a whale surfaced, the chase was on!

Attached to the harpoon lines were sealskin bags filled with air to slow down the whale and mark its location. When exhausted, it was killed with a lance and towed to thick ice.

One whale could feed a whole settlement for many months, and they were treated with great respect, symbolizing the unity of mankind and nature. It was believed that the whale's spirit returned to the water and was reborn.

This respect was not shared by European and American whalers, who slaughtered the whales almost to extinction. Once plentiful, their numbers are now estimated at only 7,000 to 9,000.

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Library: Whales/Fish, Inuit, Ice, Arctic
Links: Inuit, Arctic
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