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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/852

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and with magic songs and beating of drums do their best to make it come.

It is not every man in the village who owns an umiak that fits it out for whaling, as it requires a good deal of property to procure the necessary outfit. About eight or ten boats from each village make up the usual fleet. The crews—eight or ten men to a boat—are made up during the winter.

The owner of the boat—who is always the captain and steersman—sometimes hires his crew outright, paying them with tobacco or cartridges or other goods, and sometimes allows them a share in the profits, but, I believe, always feeds them while the boat is "in commission." When enough men for a full crew can not be secured, women and even half-grown lads take their places in the boat. One man is selected for harpooner and posted in the bow, and usually another, amidships, has charge of a whaleman's bomb-gun, for firing an explosive lance into the whale, for most of the rich Eskimo whalemen now own these guns.

Now, as to the instruments used for the capture of the whale. Instead of harpooning the whale, or "fastening" to him, as the white whalemen say, and keeping the end of the line fast in the boat, which the whale is made to drag about till the crew can manage to haul up and lance him to death, there is but a short line attached to each harpoon, to the end of which are fastened two floats made of whole seal-skins, inflated, which are thrown overboard as soon as the harpoon is fixed in the whale. Each boat carries four or five harpoons, and several boats crowd round and endeavor to attach these floats to the whale every time he comes to the surface, until he can dive no longer, and lies upon the water ready for the death-stroke. Some of the harpoons are regular whalemen's "irons," but they still also use their own ingenious harpoons, in which the head, made of bone or walrus ivory, with a point of stone or metal set into it, is alone fastened to the line, and is contrived so as to "unship" from the shaft as soon as it is thrust into the whale, and to turn at right angles to the line, like a toggle, under the skin. To kill the whale after he is harpooned, they used in old times long lances, with beautifully flaked flint heads, as broad as one's hand; but now they all have regular steel whale lances, and, as I have said before, most of them own bomb-guns.

Some of the boats are carried out over the ice to the place where they are to be launched before the "lead" opens, and, as soon as open water is reported by the scouts, all start. There is a great deal of ceremony and superstition connected with the whale-fishery. The captain and harpooner of each boat wear special trappings, and streak their faces with black-lead, as, indeed, is often done on festive occasions. Long before the time for whaling, all those