The year is 1909. Father Moser from the Christie Indian Residential
School (Kakawis) is at Echachis at low tide looking towards Mount Colnet.
With his handy-dandy tripod mounted, 50mm fixed lens, glass plate negative
camera, he is making an image of what may be the last Humpback whale
(iihtoop) taken in the traditional first nations fashion. Ya-sshin Jack
(Alice Jack’s grandfather) killed this whale and they towed it
to Echachis in 1909.
The harpoon used would not have been constructed in the old manner
of bone, mussel shell, spruce root and yew wood. At this time they
were using steel harpoons with a pivoting barb that toggled inside
the whale. This devise had a line fixed to it and a wooden socketed
shaft that released once the strike had been made. Sealskin bladders
were likely still used as floatation drag for tiring the animal. The
killing stroke would have been made with a meter long sharpened steel
shaft without barbs. Though there are no obvious canoes (chupits) in
the image, the skid marks where they were dragged up above the high
tide are clearly visible on the beach. The stern of one chupits can
be seen still in the water behind the whales head.
The large pectoral wings of the whale have been lashed tightly to
the animal’s side to cut down on drag and the unnaturally closed
mouth tells us that it was secured shut with the tow line being fixed
through the blubber in the animal’s snout. The European fashion
was to cut the flukes off and tow the animal by the tail. I have tried
towing a dead whale using both methods. Towing head first works fine
at slow speeds as would be the case using several chupits. When you
put the pedal to the metal with a power boat, the animal dives under
water creating tremendous drag. Even towing from the tail, an 8 meter
Killer Whale (Kawkawin) took us 11 hours from 10 miles off Hot Springs to Strawberry Isle (see Scuttle Butt Oct. ‘97).
The man holding a line in the left foreground appears to be waiting
for a man at the whale’s tail to fasten a line. I believe that
the intent here is to pull the animal higher up the beach on the next
high tide. This makes sense as the whales head sits much lower in the
water so the rest of the body can get further up the beach. The line
is too thin to have been used as a tow line.
A man standing between the whale’s tail and the people sitting
on the beach appears to me hold a long curved flencing knife in anticipation
of the butchering job in front of him.
In the old days, the tribe would get together and haule on a stout
lines fastened to the opposite side of the whales body thus rolling
the carcass onto its stomach. This made for easier access to all
of the meat and blubber. There is no evidence of this preparation being
made in the photo.
Echachis was the place to bring a whale as it has a pea gravel beach,
much nicer than a sand beach as beach picnic people will attest.
Rod Palm is a marine researcher and historian. For more information
visit his website at www.strawberryisle.org