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A post by Museum volunteer, Megan Meloche …

This is my first time. I am inside a dugout canoe. It rocks back and forth dancing with the Pacific Coast waves. A fog has settled over us making the shoreline impossible to see, but I know it still must be there. It is cooler than normal for spring and a chill has crept its way into my bones. They begin to ache. I must not move. I must be still, quiet, invisible like the shoreline. Deep in the fog I hear the blowhole spray of a Grey Whale. Goosebumps have found a home on my arms, my heart quickens. The sound is haunting the first time you hear it so close.

As I look around the other the men are calm, patient, ready and alert. Then it comes. My eyes widen as I gasp in the wet cool fog around us. The whale’s size is startling, as nearly 35,000 pounds of mammal comes hurdling out of the water near our canoe. It seems to hover in mid air before crashing back down into its ocean home; waves send our canoe rocking from side to side. We settle our vessel and I realize my heart feels like it may leap from my chest. I can hear it pounding in my ears. A strong hand finds my shoulder, squeezing it, reaffirming that we will be fine.  I must relax. We must wait for the next whale. I am a whaler. This is my first time.

This may have been the experience of a young boy on his first whale hunt off British Columbia’s coast. The Nuu-chah-nulth of Vancouver Island’s West coast are traditional whale hunters. Historically whaling served important social, spiritual and ritual functions within the communities. One oral tradition, passed down through generations, noted that the grey whale saved the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples from starvation. This illustrates how central the grey whale is to the community’s culture and identity.

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