Narwhals hunted by the peoples of the Canadian Arctic.

For a long time, narwhals kept the unicorn legend alive. Indeed, in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, narwhal tusks were worth a fortune as they were said to be the horns of the legendary unicorn. The male narwhal has a tusk, and sometimes even two. This is a long, twisted tooth that grows up to three metres in length. As opposed to the male, the female narwhal only rarely grows a tusk. Il was thought at one time that narwhals could pierce the hulls of ships with their tusks.

Nelson Cazeils private collection

Canadian Territories, CANADA
© 2011, Musée du Fjord. All Rights Reserved.


Right whales attacking a ship.

Until the early 20th Century, it was believed that whales were a threat to ships. In 1913, a German ocean liner was reported to have been attacked by a pod of right whales in the Atlantic Ocean. But right whales are actually quite inoffensive. Despite its monstrous proportions, the black North Atlantic right whale was so named by whalers who thought is was the right whale to hunt, because they move slowly and, being rich in blubber, they float to the surface of the ocean after the kill.

Nelson Cazeils private collection

© 2011, Musée du Fjord. All Rights Reserved.


Pointed explosive harpoon.

Explosive harpoons are equipped with tips that explode inside the whales after impact. The explosion breaks up the iron, sending shards into the whales’ vital organs. In 2007, a boreal whale being hunted on the Alaskan coast had the tip of a harpoon embedded in the blubber near its neck, from a type of harpoon used in the 1880s. The large mammal likely survived a hunt well over a century ago and would be around 115-130 years old.

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2011, Musée du Fjord. All Rights Reserved.


Moby Dick movie poster.

The novel tells the story of American whale hunters in the mid 19th Century. It is based on a true story, that of the Essex, an American whaler that sank in 1820 following an attach by a harpooned sperm whale. In the 19th Century, sailors embarking on whaling expeditions were seen as fearless adventurers. They told stories of whales so big, they were thought to be desert islands!

Nelson Cazeils private collection

© 2011, Musée du Fjord. All Rights Reserved.


Harpoon gun

The explosive harpoon gun was used for whale hunting. Cetaceans do not spontaneously attack humans and their boats. However, as is the case for any trapped animal, they can become aggressive when harassed or injured. A harpooned right whale can destroy a canoe with its tail, and an angry sperm whale is capable of crushing a rowboat in its jaws!

Maritime Museum of British Columbia

© 2011, Musée du Fjord. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

Understand the behaviours, attributes, and legends that turned whales into sea monsters.

Raise awareness as to the precariousness of aquatic resources.

Learn about whale hunting methods and tools.


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