I posted a couple of days ago about a historic photo of members of the Quinalt Tribe making canoes in the Queets watershed. Immediately to the north, the Makah tribe at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula are well known for their succesful whale hunting practices, carried out from canoes similar to those being carved.
As it happens, in 1920 the Anthropologist T.T. Waterman wrote a detailed account of Makah whaling technology, which you can download in full here (PDF). Above, I illustrate the nomenclature of the Makah whaling canoe – I like how the small bump on the lower bow is called the uvula. Below, you can see the seating plan when geared up and loaded for whale. As you might expect for such a dangerous undertaking as killing whales from a canoe, the division of labour is quite precise: “float-tender”, “harpoon line tender”, “float inflator” . The “diver” had the task of swimming to the lower jaw of the dead whale, piercing the skin and flesh, and sewing the mouth shut to prevent the whale sinking on the long tow home. You can see a vivid picture of some of these people further below. Descriptions of these tasks and the associated gear is given in Waterman, which contains huge insight into traditional Northwest Coast technology and social practice. I’ll most likely post more snippets from this book in due course. The Makah have, of course, recently re-asserted their traditional right to hunt whales which I fully support.