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Monday, June 7, 2010

Indigenous Whaling

You might be surprised to find that this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), currently under way in Agadir, Morocco, is concerned with Anthropological matters. The commission is discussing changes to the rules governing what they call ‘indigenous subsistence whaling.'

The commission seeks to control the hunting of whales by indigenous groups through a series of regulations. These regulations include the stipulation that products resulting from the hunting of whales cannot be exported and that whaling must be conducted “in perpetuity appropriate to cultural and nutritional requirements.” It is the responsibility of the indigenous group’s national government to provide the IWC with evidence of the cultural and subsistence needs of their people.

Here at the National Anthropological Archives, we have a wealth of information relating to the importance of whales in indigenous cultures. While traveling throughout Alaska in the early twentieth century, the anthropologist Henry Collins noted the use of whale bone in art and decoration, as well as in the structures of homes and burial mounds. He also commented on the implications of a diet consisting largely of whale, and described the intricate harpoons used to hunt these creatures. You can find information relating to his diaries and field notes here.

The Haida nation of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America gives us this depiction of an Orca on the left. The photograph on the right is a lower part of a totem pole and a small carved figure from the corner of a house, representing the killer whale, with the human face at the base of the dorsal fin.

Click here for other Smithsonian collections related to whales and whaling.

-Joaquin Espinoza, Intern
National Anthropological Archives

1 comment:

  1. Guys, given your interest in this issue, I thought you'd like to know about this video we've developed with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation society to raise awareness of this issue; We've also created an e-protest so would love your support;

    Here is an article which features our activity. Please help us by showing your support by spreading the word and supporting the cause. The petition is here The film we’ve made features model, Alice Dellal, narration from actor Christopher Eccleston and music from The Horrors. The each e-protest made will be sent directly to the most high profile supporters in favour of the plan to lift the ban, which surprisingly include Barack Obama and the Prime Minister of New Zealand.