Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Whales are here again

(Click on link above for picture taken this month)

This area used to be the center of a thriving whale fishery. During the winter months, these huge sea mammals are everywhere just off the beach feeding on large schools of menhaden. When the weather is decent, winter is the idea time to go out and see whales and pods of dolphins that stretch for acres. The dolphins in winter often put on a heck of a show-flipping and tailwalking in addition to their usual slow rolling. Since few boats (hence motors) are present to block out the noise, you can hear a dolphin exhale from hundred of yards away. I have seen thousands of dolphins, yet I never get tired of seeing them. I especially like seeing tourists see them for the first time. If they are swimming on the beach, their first reaction is stark terror-the fins usually bring cries of "shark" and a sprint to the "safety" of the shore. If they are in a boat, they yell and point and snap photos of these graceful creatures. When our dog, Mystery died a couple of years ago, I dreamed that she came back as a dolphin. Below is a story of the NC whaling "industry" that existed in the 1700's and 1800's in Carteret County.

Whaling — The Harpoon and LanceFrom the Collection of Ken Eldred, Sr.
The following is a narration by Mr. Ken Eldred, Sr., Morehad City, great-nephew of Capt. John Lewis, Shackleford whaler. The right whale model and pilot boat model were hand-carved by Ken Eldred, Sr. The harpoon and lance were made by his son Kenny Eldred, II.
“At the time, Capt. Lewis was living on Shackleford Banks at Wades Shore. He and his father James Lewis, and four other men in their crew would go out in their pilot boat which they left on the oceanside of the Banks, handy for capturing and killing whales when they were sighted.
They would harpoon the whale first (sometimes two harpoons were used), throw out the dray to slow the whale down, and the ‘ride was one!’ As soon as the whale was tired out, they would pull ‘along side the whale’ – on the left side – and throw the lance just back of the left fluke, where the heart is located. If the lance hit just right, blood spouted from the blow hole. Then they knew the end was near. Soon the whale rolled over, ‘fin-side up.’
The crew next lashed ropes around the whale’s fin, and started rowing for the beach. After hours of pulling the oars, and sometimes using the small sail to help them move faster, they would ‘make the shore,’ feeling very tired and ‘wore out.’
But then the work really began – cutting the whale up.
Usually men from other whaling crews would have to help. Of course, they got a ‘share’ of the whale for their work. The mean was cut in chunks, put in ‘trying’ pots, and boiled until the meat was brown. Uncle John Lewis called the browned, cooked meat ‘cracklins.’ Some of the cracklin was thrown on the fire, making the fire hotter, and some was later used as fertilizer in gardens. The oil was ‘bailed out’ of the trying pots, and put in barrels. These were carried to Beaufort and sold.
My grandmother, Mary Lew Day, who was Capt. John Lewis’ sister, told me that she has seen the crews come in at times ‘all covered with blood.’ She also remembered that ‘blood and water’ were 2-3" deep in the pilot boat when the whaling crew returned to shore. Rocking in her chair as she told me the tale, she also remembered that the men were all very sick when they got back, and would rush to their homes, lie down, and couldn’t even eat for a while.
But this was their way of life — a way to make a living — and it had to be done.
From "Our Shared Past" prepared for the Diamond City & Ca'e Bankers Reunion, August 1999 as a collection of writings, research and recollections to tell the story of the Banks communities.Copyright 1995, Core Sound Waterfowl MuseumAll rights reserved.
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4:42 PM  

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