Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Nineteenth-Century Harpoon Found in Live Whale
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

BOSTON — A 50-ton bowhead whale caught off the Alaskan coast last month had a weapon fragment embedded in its neck that showed it survived a similar hunt — more than a century ago.
Embedded deep under its blubber was a 3½-inch arrow-shaped projectile that has given researchers insight into the whale's age, estimated between 115 and 130 years old.
"No other finding has been this precise," said John Bockstoce, an adjunct curator of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
Calculating a whale's age can be difficult, and is usually gauged by amino acids in the eye lenses. It's rare to find one that has lived more than a century, but experts say the oldest were close to 200 years old.
The bomb lance fragment, lodged in a bone between the whale's neck and shoulder blade, was likely manufactured in New Bedford, on the southeast coast of Massachusetts, a major whaling center at that time, Bockstoce said.
It was probably shot at the whale from a heavy shoulder gun around 1890.
The small metal cylinder was filled with explosives fitted with a time-delay fuse so it would explode seconds after it was shot into the whale. The bomb lance was meant to kill the whale immediately and prevent it from escaping.
The device exploded and probably injured the whale, Bockstoce said.
"It probably hurt the whale, or annoyed him, but it hit him in a non-lethal place," he said. "He couldn't have been that bothered if he lived for another 100 years."
The whale harkens back to far different era. If 130 years old, it would have been born in 1877, the year Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in as president, when federal Reconstruction troops withdrew from the South and when Thomas Edison unveiled his newest invention, the phonograph.
The 49-foot male whale died when it was shot with a similar projectile last month, and the older device was found buried beneath its blubber as hunters carved it with a chain saw for harvesting.
"It's unusual to find old things like that in whales, and I knew immediately that it was quite old by its shape," said Craig George, a wildlife biologist for the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, who was called down to the site soon after it was found.
The revelation led George to return to a similar piece found in a whale hunted near St. Lawrence Island in 1980, which he sent to Bockstoce to compare.
"We didn't make anything of it at the time, and no one had any idea about their lifespan, or speculated that a bowhead could be that old," George said.
Bockstoce said he was impressed by notches carved into the head of the arrow used in the 19th century hunt, a traditional way for the Alaskan hunters to indicate ownership of the whale.
Whaling has always been a prominent source of food for Alaskans, and is monitored by the International Whaling Commission.
A hunting quota for the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission was recently renewed, allowing 255 whales to be harvested by 10 Alaskan villages over five years.
After it is analyzed, the fragment will be displayed at the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska.


Anonymous said...

It's disgusting to think that this whale who had at least once been strong enough to live through a whale hunt, has been targeted yet again at over 100 years of age. Culture or not, whale hunting should be illegal in all countries and waters. I hope the people that eat this whales carcass have nightmares!

Seekar12 said...

Isn't it nice to know that a majestic century old creature that has trolled the oceans for this long could just be killed off to feed humanity. How nice that after it's senseless slaughter, it could enlighten us to the fact that we took a life that had seen and survived so much. It just makes you proud to be part of this "Humanity" thing doesn't it. I hope before we extinguish all other life on this planet, we realize how to communicate and ask the other inhabitants here if they are OK with what is happening to them on their home.

Ann said...

You know, this really pisses me off. This poor creature has managed to survive an assault over a century ago only to be decimated once again. Shame on the hunters that took this precious life.

Anonymous said...

Have any of you ever been to Alaska? The places where many of the Inuit people live are very remote - and no they do not have a grocery store down the street. This is their food source along with walrus, seals, etc. This is how they live, survive and eat. They waste absolutely nothing from thier hunts. They are of the very few tribal peoples in the Americas that their culture was not totally destroyed by the influx of white people - because of the extreme conditions they live in the land was not wanted. There are also a few tribal people's left in the rainforests of South America. The native people that hunt whales or any other food source were not the ones that brought so many animals to the brink of extinction or totally wiped so many out - white europeans and their descendents are. Maybe if white europeans had tried to learn then and now from native peoples respect of the land and the animals that inhabit it the earth would not be in so much trouble right now. Yes this is their culture, tradition, how they survive and eat and no one has a right anymore to interfere with that. Enough native cultures have been destroyed by people who thought their way of life was better - Manifest destiny???? That has worked well hasn't it! Give me a break!

Anonymous said...

I love whales and I hope I can explain myself. There are several species of whales, not all of them are on the way to exticntion.The meat (cows, pigs, poultry..) eaten in developed countries is produced in an intensive way, very often not considering animal welfare. slaughter houses conditions are apauling. Whales live in their natural environment with none or very little human interference during their lives. this whale was killed to feed a local comunity in a very quick and decent way. Aren't people, who consume this meat products of thousands of animals, that are badly treated and that are against a sustainable local fisheries for lack of knowledge saying they defend animal rights just for being agaisnt whale hunting (by a community) aren't these people a bit hipocrit?I totally agree with anonymous 9:48AM.