National Geographic : 1991 Oct
Whaling was the most dangerousof endeavors. It demanded spiritual readiness, the best equip ment, skill, strength, and greatcourage. Few took up the quest; few enjoyed the prestigeof a success ful hunt. Each whaler prepares himself alone in the for est at night. Swimming slowly andgently in a secret pool (above right) encouragesthe whale to do the same. Other ritu als ensure that the whale will consent to be taken, giving the Makah plenty to eat and enough oil to trade. The pursuit begins as the first whales pass by on their springmigration north. While her husband is at sea, a harpooner's wife lies still (above left) so the whale won't thrash about; she faces inland so the harpooned whale will head to shore. Strong, silent paddling brings the 36-foot cedar canoes alongsidethe whale, where the har pooner takes aim. Em bedded, the harpoonhead anchorssealskinfloats that slow the whale as it races away. Finally exhausted, the whale is killed with the thrust of a lance. Sewing the mouth shut (followingpages) seals in buoyant gases and keeps waterfrom sinking the carcassas canoes tow it to shore. Whalers float their catch rightonto Ozette's sandy northern beach (opposite). Villag ers meet them with songs and ceremony, welcom ing the whale as an hon ored guest so it will come again.