I was poking around my library this weekend and among the treasures I took home was the June, 1974 edition of now defunct “Oceans”, one of my favorite magazines – good content and good design that holds up to today’s computer driven slicks. There, tucked away in an article about 98 year old Gooden Grant, the last old time fishermen from Head Harbor, Isle au Haut, was a description of a right whale that had drifted into the Harbor. The whole article gives a brilliant portrait of life one hundred years ago, but the whale tale was particularly revealing as it spoke to the continued pressure right whales have suffered along our Gulf of Maine coast for hundred of years.
Towed a whale in here to blubber him. Big whale, right whale, eighty-ninety feet long. Big as a mountain that fellow. Always thirty or forty fellas in here waiting for the weather. Happened to be an old whaler in here on a vessel, a mackerel catcher. He’d been around the Horn a good many times on whaling ships you know. They looked that big whale over and couldn’t see what killed him.
The old fellow come ashore and ‘Well,’ he said. ‘That whale right there’s got a bomb lance in him. That’s one of the best whales there is in the ocean. That’s one they pride themselves on. What they call a right whale,’ he says.
There was some laughed at him so he called for a ladder. Just to see the fun they fetched it for him. Had to be a long ladder and they put it up on the whale.
He went off and put his oil clothes on and came back with his own box of knives and sharp lances. He climbed aboard the head and started cutting in right around the blowhole.
He ripped up about a fifteen-foot-long piece of blubber and then he carved himself right in out of sight. We couldn’t see him unless we climbed up too. He cut himself right in along the backbone, said he was following the wound of the lance.
By and by he held a ten-foot harpoon in his hand. The old man climbed down and handed the harpoon to me. He took off his oilskins and nobody laughed at him again. My father had the lance on exhibition for years.
Quote and photo from Gooden Grant Isle au Haut, Oceans, Vol. 7, No. 3, May-June, 1974. Copyright Lynn Franklin, 1972. Currier & Ives print of “A New England Whaler” from Wikipedia.com. Creative Commons License.