An Asian Bestiary | Whaling in the Siberian Arctic


CARVING, WHALE. Catalog No: 70/2992

For many native peoples of Siberia, whales play important social, spiritual, and subsistence roles in daily life. In the cold Arctic climate, hunting whales and large sea mammals is necessary for survival and the meat and blubber from a single whale can feed a community for several months. Traditionally, northern peoples have regarded whales as honored guests who are an integral part of community survival. They feast and celebrate the hunted whale to ensure its regeneration and the return of whales to the village in future seasons. Angallyt (Maritime Chukchi), Maritime Koryak, and Yupik (Siberian Eskimo) hunt primarily for gray and bowhead whales as they migrate north from warmer climates to spend their summers feeding in the Arctic Ocean, the Bering Sea, and the Chukchi Sea. Collecting and observations by members of the Jesup North Pacific Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History (1897-1901) offer a window on this way of life at the turn of the 20th century when whale population, needed by native peoples for survival, had already been reduced by 19th century commercial whaling enterprises and new hunting technologies had been introduced.

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