Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/854

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floats attached, rests in a crotch of ivory lashed to the bow of the boat, and everybody is on the alert. Sails and oars are never used in the boat when whaling, but the boat is propelled by paddles alone.

Thus they spend the months of May and June, eating and sleeping when they can, for the daylight now lasts through the twenty-four hours, occasionally hauling the boat up to the edge of the ice for a rest. Somebody, however, is always on the watch for whales or seals or ducks, which last now and then at this season pass by in thousands on their way to the north.

When the "leads" close, the boats are hauled up safely on the ice, and all hands come home till an east wind and "water sky" warn them of a fresh chance for whaling.

Let us suppose that there is good open water, and that a couple of boats are hauled up on the edge of the land floe, their crews resting and gossiping, perhaps waiting for the return of the women who have been sent home to the village for food. Suddenly a faint puffing sigh is heard, and a little puff of vapor is seen over toward the edge of the ice. It is a whale "blowing." The men all spring to their feet and quickly run the boats off into the water, and, scrambling on board, grasp their paddles and are off in the direction of the "blow." If they are lucky enough to reach the whale before he escapes, the harpooner, standing up, thrusts the heavy harpoon into him with both hands, and quickly recovers the pole, to be used again. The nearest boat rushes in; other boats, seeing what is going on, come up and join in the attack until the whale is captured. Sometimes, indeed, an opportunity occurs for a successful shot with the bomb-gun as soon as the whale is struck, and the contest is ended at once. But the attack is not always so successful. Sometimes the whale escapes into the loose ice before the boats can reach him; sometimes the harpooner is clumsy, or the harpoon does not hold. Sometimes, too, the whale escapes before enough floats can be attached to him to hamper him, and carries off the harpoons, floats and all. Even if the whale is killed, he sometimes sinks before he can be towed to the edge of the ice, where the "cutting in" is to be done.

When the "lead" of open water is narrow, the natives who own bomb-guns patrol the edge of the ice, watching an opportunity to shoot the whales as they pass. It was when engaged in this kind of hunting that a young acquaintance of ours at Cape Smyth came near losing his life. A man near him, handling his bomb-gun carelessly—the Eskimos are all frightfully reckless with fire-arms—discharged it by accident, sending the bomb into the ice under his feet, where it exploded, shaking him up like a small earthquake.