The whalebone arch in Whitby commemorates the Yorkshire town’s historic link with the whaling industry. The bones are from a Bowhead whale which was killed under license by Alaskan Inuits, and unveiled by Miss Alaska in 2003. The presence of whales in Britain
In 1753 the first whaling ship set sail to Greenland and by 1795 Whitby had become a major whaling port. The most successful year was 1814 when eight ships caught 172 whales, and the whaler, the Resolution’s catch produced 230 tons of oil. The carcases yielded 42 tons of whale bone used for ‘stays’ which were used in the corsetry trade until changes in fashion made them redundant. Blubber was boiled to produce oil for use in lamps in four oil houses on the harbourside. Oil was used for street lighting until the spread of gas lighting reduced demand and the Whitby Whale Oil and Gas Company changed into the Whitby Coal and Gas Company. As the market for whale products fell, catches became too small to be economic and by 1831 only whaling ship, the Phoenix, remained.
“A BBC feature documentary about a Gaelic island community in Scotland embarking on their epic annual seabird hunt in the treacherous North Atlantic.
Every August ten men from Ness set sail through the gales of the North Atlantic for Sula Sgeir, a desolate island 40 miles off the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Following in the footsteps of countless generations, they leave their normal lives behind to hunt for the guga, the meat of the young gannets.
The men spend two exhausting weeks on the uninhabited rock, sleeping in stone huts amongst ruins left by Celtic monks a thousand years ago. They work ceaselessly, catching, killing and salting 2000 birds using traditional methods before returning home with this rare meat so cherished by the people of Ness.
These are the last men allowed to hunt seabirds in the EU and the UK and for 50 years this ancient tradition has remained hidden from the cameras. In 2009 we sailed with the hunters and filmed their unique voyage.”
The Guga Hunters of Ness – Trailer from Intrepid Cinema on Vimeo.
The dead birds are then brought back to Lewis and boiled in milk and served as a delicacy. A delicacy for some for others their salty, oily flesh is an acquired taste: ‘ like salt-mackerel-flavoured chicken’, as Lewis writer Donald Murray put it.