First Peoples > An Ancient Bond with the Land > Arctic Whalers > Hunting the Largest Animals

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An Ancient Bond with the Land

Arctic Whalers

Hunting the Largest Animals

Bowhead whales are among the largest animals on earth, up to 20 metres (65 feet) in length and weighing 60 tonnes. They represent an immense storehouse of food and materials, including meat, bone, baleen and blubber. The successful hunting of so large an animal requires both great skill and an elaborate technology.

Most Inuit groups who hunted bowheads regularly, did so using the large skin boat or umiaq, and a heavy harpoon with a detachable head. When thrust deep into the animal, this detachable harpoon head twisted sideways, and could not be dislodged.

Attached to the harpoon head by a long line was a collection of sealskin floats and drags shaped like buckets. These slowed and tired the animal as it swam. Harassed by a growing flotilla of boats, including kayaks, the whale eventually became too exhausted to escape, and was killed with lances.

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