For seven seasons, the TV show “Deadliest Catch” has showcased extreme fishing at its scary best. But hundreds of years before the “Deadliest Catch” hit the airwaves, the Aleuts in the Aleutian Islands braved the same tumultuous Bering Sea in their kayaks and risked their lives hunting the deadliest catch of all — the powerful humpback whale.
Unlike the fishermen in “Deadliest Catch,” the Aleuts hunted with a harpoon that they coated with aconite poison. The poison was made from the monkshood root by drying, grating, and fermenting it. With their spears in hand, the fearless Aleuts expertly kayaked right up to the whale and plunged in their poisoned harpoons. And instead of trying to drag the whale back to shore, the Aleut hunters waited patiently for a few days, always on the lookout for the whale to wash up near or on the beach.
The whale could feed the entire village, and no part was wasted. The bones were used to frame their homes, and the whale blubber was used for fuel. The Aleut whale hunters were highly respected, and the “special rights and powers” to be a whale hunter were passed down from father to son.
The Aleuts’ Deadliest Catch
The TV Show “Deadliest Catch”
Watch this clip from the TV show “Deadliest Catch,” and see for yourself just how gutsy the Aleuts were to hunt whales in their kayaks in the deadly Bering Sea.
More about the Aleuts and how they were nearly destroyed by the invasion of the Japanese during WWII can be found in Ghosts in the Fog.