Polar region

Whales and Narwhals

The Inuit harpooned whales from their kayaks. The ribs were used as roof rafters and the vertebrae as stools for sitting on, while the jaws served as sled runners. The baleens were fashioned into cups, tools, and traps for wolves and polar bears and were also used for sewing.

In 1609, the explorer Henry Hudson tried to find a northerly passage to China. His reports of waters teeming with whales touched off the whale hunt and the Arctic was soon full of whaling ships – some 500 to 600 a year, with as many as 20,000 sailors in all. A bowhead whale yields 30 tonnes of blubber. The baleens were used for upholstery stuffing, cleaning brushes, fishing rods, shoehorns, umbrella ribs, typewriter springs, corset stays and stiffening for hoop skirts. With the invention of plastics like celluloid and Bakelite, the price of baleen plummeted, putting an end to 300 years of commercial whaling.

The Inuit also hunted narwhal as food for themselves and their dogs. The ivory tusk was carved into various utilitarian items.

[peinture #07026]
Bowhead Whale and Narwhal
Book illustration, pen, on Letraset paper
Credit: Frédéric Back and Libre Expression
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