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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/855

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835
WHALE-CATCHING AT POINT BARROW.

"When the whale is killed, it is towed, as I have said, to the edge of the solid floe, and the work of cutting him np begins. By long-established custom, universal among the Eskimos, the skin, blubber, and flesh of a whale belong to the whole community, no matter who killed it; but, at Point Barrow, the whalebone must be equally divided among all the boats that were in sight when the whale was killed.

They have none of the appliances used by civilized whalemen for easily and rapidly stripping off all the blubber, but hack away at everything in reach, getting off all they can before the carcass sinks. The news soon reaches the villages that a whale has been killed, and there are very few households that do not send a representative to the scene of action as speedily as they can, with sledges and dogs to bring away their share of the spoils. As may be supposed, there is a lively scramble round the carcass. Some on the ice, some crowding the boats, they cluster round the whale like flies round a honey-pot. Leaning over the edge of the boats, careless of the water, they hack and cut and slash with whalespades and knives, each trying to get the most he can. So far as I have ever heard, this is a perfectly good-natured scramble, and no one ever thinks of stealing from another's pile on the ice. The blubber, meat, "blackskin," and whalebone are soon carried home to the village. The blubber is not tried out, but is packed away in bags made of whole seal-skins, and, with the meat, is stowed away in little underground chambers, of which there are many in the villages.

The "blackskin" is eaten fresh, and is seldom if ever cooked. This curious dainty is the epidermis or cuticle of the whale. It is about an inch thick, and looks, for all the world, like black India rubber; it is not so tough, however. Civilized whalemen are nearly as fond of it as the Eskimos, but are not in the habit of eating it raw. When nicely fried in the fresh, sweet oil of the "try-pots," when they are "boiling out" the blubber of a whale, for instance, it is very palatable, tasting much like fried pigs' feet. It is also good boiled and "soused" with vinegar and spices. The Eskimos are fond, too, of the tough white gum round the roots of the whalebone.

The jawbones of the whale are cut out and preserved. From these and from the ribs are sawed out strips of bone for shoeing the runners of the sledges. In fact, everything that can be cut off from the whale, before the carcass sinks or is carried off by the current, serves some useful purpose.

The most favorable time for whaling is when there is a continuous "lead" of open water, not more than a couple of hundred yards wide, with a solid pack of ice beyond it. Then the whales must pass up within sight or hearing of the boats. When the