Tuesday 5 October 2010

Whaling Day!

16th Century, Red Bay – the Capital of Whaling! Well, maybe not the capital, but certainly in those days one of the most important and largest of the at least 16 whaling stations along the seashore of the area.

In the only 300-souls-village we were surprised to find 3 beautifully set up exhibitions on whales and whaling. The skeleton of a big bowhead whale was on display and a ‘chalupa’, an old rowing boat used to hunt these big beasts. It was only a little longer than the mandibles of the whale lying next to it for a scale reference. All these items, together with the remains of four galleons, were found on the seafloor at Red Bay by underwater archaeologists.
Hard to believe that until the 1970s, nobody knew about all this history. Only then, British researcher Selma Barkham started to investigate in the Basque region of southern France and northern Spain old records of different types. She revealed the large-scale whale fishery carried out by the Basques in the 16th century in Canada (after they had exterminated the local right whale population in the Bay of Biscay) and it was only then that the different artefacts were discovered in Red Bay. Not only under water, but also a large cemetery of approximately 140 whalers was found on Saddle Island. Today, Red Bay’s collection is thought to be the best of its kind in the world.
Not surprisingly, many of us spent the day investigating the different museums. But the nice weather (again!) also invited for a hike on Saddle Island to which a shuttle service with the polar circle boats was set up. Others went on an even longer walk to up to Tracy Hill to have a wonderful view and some went on an excursion to Point Amour.