Grey Whale: Eschrichtius robustus
The female of this specie of whale is actually slightly larger than the male, growing to lengths of forty-six feet and weighing thirty-five tons. Greys migrate yearly. Each spring they leave their winter breeding grounds off the coast of Baja California and head for the Arctic Ocean. In September they head south again, sometimes swimming twenty-four hours a day. The round trip is more than 12,000 miles. These whales live close to the shore. They swim to the ocean bottom and lying on their side, they gulp up sand or mud on the bottom, then force it back out through their baleen. Grey whale mothers play games with their calves. The mother swims under her calf, blowing bubbles out her blowholes (Grey whales have two). The result? The calf is twirled around and around. Newborn calves twelve to fifteen feet long and one to one and one half tons. They are totally dependent on their mothers from birth. It’s not uncommon for calves to spend years with their mothers before they are able to look after themselves. Their only natural enemies are killer whales that feed on Grey tongues, and large sharks that will attack calves. These whales are washing up on shore dead. Starvation and pollution are factors being considered. The barnacles and scars on each whale are as distinctive as the whaling societies depicted within.
The Nootka and Makah
These were the indigenous whalers of the Pacific Northwest, located in northern Washington, U.S.A. and southern British Columbia, Canada. Long before “white”man, a branch of the Nootka migrated south to the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. These people became the Makah. The whaler pictured in the center of the Grey mother is what a Makah whaler would have appeared around the turn of the century. He’s carrying the main weapon, a harpoon of yew wood. It had a shell tip and two bone barbs called “man and woman”. This head was detachable and fastened to 600 feet of rope made from cedar bark, with four inflated sealskin floats tied on at intervals. The Greys whales were treated with honor.The chief organized the hunt. Thirty- foot canoes were used, manned by eight men. Months ahead the chief and first lady began ritual training to win the cooperation of the Whale Spirits. No flesh of land animals was consumed. A few days before the hunt, the crew took up these rituals. The harpooner was next in rank only to the chief. At the beginning of the hunting season he went to live in a house consisting of posts and poles (no walls) filled with skulls of ancestors and charms like the one in the mother whale’s tail. Here he kept vigils and engaged in prayers for success. Hats like the one pictured, were woven with spruce roots or cedar bark fibers to protect whalers from the rain. Masks like those pictured were used during winter dancing ceremonies.