Mélange Travel & Lifestyle Magazine July 2018 - Page 656

Whaling in Bequia St. Vincent & The Grenadines (Bequia) is a member of the IWC and adheres strictly to its regulations which allow the islands to preserve this almost 200-year old tradition E xpectant faces dot the undulating coastline: people perched on a cliffside or mingling on a beach in one single line of anticipation, laughing, chatting, or simply waiting. Gentle breezes meander all about, mixing with the soft breath of rustling waves and the embracing warmth of the sun’s rays. Suddenly, cheers erupt as the crowds ripple forward in excitement: it’s getting closer! We can almost see it! Finally, it appears: the tiny bobbing boat trailed by its large, looming prize: the dark, mammoth body of a freshly-harpooned humpback whale. Everyone flocks down to the “whaling station” to witness the arrival; elsewhere, workers vacate their desks, children run from the schoolyard and pots are left on the stove so all can partake in this momentous community event. This scene is affectionately recounted by Guinell Ollivierre-Hazell, my co-worker-turned- photographer/tour guide in Bequia, an 11km2 piece of paradise and one of St. Vincent’s Grenadine islands. Having driven minutes from the airport down to the local fishing dock, we are now seated outside a small food stall. Just across the way the Perseverance and other fishing boats silently await their next expedition. Meanwhile, Guinell’s eyes light up as she describes this tradition so dear to her people. For Bequarians, whaling is more than just a highly anticipated season; it’s a part of history woven into every fiber of present-day life. No wonder fishermen returning from a whale catch meet throngs of cheering onlookers riled up in carnivalesque excitement. It all starts with the “whale watchers”, who, upon observing certain conditions on the water, take up viewing posts on Bequia’s south coast or on Isle-a-Quatre, a small uninhabited island just south of Bequia. When the watchers sight a whale, the fishermen sail out to the point, and, using original methods, harpoon and secure the creature to the boat. This is dangerous business, as a frightened whale could haul the boat up to 20 miles offshore and into a situation attracting Submitted by Shana Jones. Read her blog at www.RoamingAviatrix.com furiously salivating sharks. Upon its arrival on the crowded shores, a group of men assists the fishermen in beaching the whale and harvesting its meat and blubber. “So...about the whale meat, blubber, etc?”, I ask Andrew, a soft-spoken, bronzed fisherman. The seasoned whaler has joined us at the picnic table outside the stall and is quietly eager to share his knowledge. Shielding his eyes from the brilliant sunlight, he tells me that Bequarians love their whale meat! Beef- like in texture and not naturally salty, it can be corned (cut up and dried) or cooked in its own oil and preserved for up to two years. Burning the blubber produces the oil, which locals consume as an Omega-6-rich wellness tonic. Most interesting, however, is how they turn the heavy, off-white bones into indoor and outdoor decorative pieces; there is even a shop called The Whale Bone that features a whale bone counter and stools! Behind all the excitement, meat, and bone ornaments, however, lie the regulations that help to preserve this almost 200-year tradition. These regulations originate with the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a global body that seeks to control the world’s whale population and promote the growth of its industry. For St. Vincent (Bequia), an IWC member, this means that a maximum of 4 whales, humpback only, may be caught each year. Fishermen may only hunt whales in their waters and the meat and other by- products must be consumed in Bequia. Finally, and most important for the preservation of local heritage, the whales must be harpooned using traditional methods. Whale bone ornament at the entrance of a local seaside bar. Photo credit: Guinell Ollivierre-Hazell Andrew, an experienced whaler, shows me harpooning equipment aboard the Perseverance Photo credit: Shana Jones Only in extreme circumstances (ie. with a particularly fretful whale) may fishermen use modern alternatives. Today’s glimpse into Bequia’s culture and traditions has been truly interesting for me. As my gaze shifts towards a giant jaw bone pointing at the cloudless sky, my mind runs over the scene again. I think, How cool it is to witness man interacting with resources in his natural environment in ways passed down through the generations! How incredible it is to form part of this life cycle, taking graciously from Mother Earth and then returning her gifts in another form! It affirms for me that in Bequia, as anywhere else, we must treasure and be good stewards of nature’s gifts around us. With deference to the humpback whales of Bequia, I offer humble thanks. DID YOU KNOW . . . Elsewhere in the world, whale stool and vomit are harvested to make perfume and cologne!