How to hunt sea otters, 1835.


From F.P. Wrangles report on the ethnography of the Northwest Coast, circa 1835.

How to catch sea otters.

The whole company camps at a spot along the coast where it is thought that sea otter are to be found, and awaits good weather and a calm sea. When these conditions arrive, they sail 40 versts [a measure of distance] or more from the coast to find a place were observations of those Aleuts who have an instinct for the hunt indicate that the animals are to be found.

Having reached the spot, the baidars position themselves in a straight line, leaving about 250 fathoms between each boat, sufficient to be able to see a partially submerged otter; thus, one party of 30 baidars can cover 10-12 versts. If more boats are present, the line stretches even farther.

As soon as all the boats are in position, the occupants turn their attention to the surface of the sea around each boat. Nothing escapes the piercing gaze of the Aleut. His skilled eye can recognized the otter in the smallest black tip which surfaces momentarily. The baidar from which the animal was first seen quickly paddles to the spot where it submerged; then, the Aleut sitting in the boat raises his paddle, remaiing motionless in his seat.

Immediately, the whole fleet begins to move; the straightline forms a wide circle around the baidar with the raised paddle. The latter now glides to the spot whre he expects his otter to surface, and as soon as the animal appears, the Aleut shoots the arrow which he had been holding ready.

The first arrow is seldom fatal, but when repeated achieves the ultimate aim; for the moment the otter disappears. Again the paddle is raised and the circle closes, each time smaller than before; the exhausted otter appears more frequently, arrows fly from all sides and eventually the dead or exhausted animal is knocked on the head by the nearest marksman.

As more otter appear, more circles are formed, the number limited only by the number of baidars available All the maneuvers are executed with wonderful speed and precision, in a slience broken only by the humming of flying arrows.



To Bruce Hallman's home page.