Native Village
Youth and Education news
March 1, 2010     Volume 1

Squaxin Island tribe pays tribute to rare Bryde's whale
By Lynda V. Mapes document_id=2011068857&zsection_id=2003925728&slug=whale14m&date=20100213

Condensed by Native Village

Mike Ogden, left, and Doyle Foster, both Squaxin Island tribal members, steam-clean whale vertebrae atop a barge at Hartstene Island. The Bryde's whale washed up on the tribe's fishing beach.

Wilson Johns, left, and Larry Ross, the Squaxin Island tribe's archaeologist, trim away tissue still clinging to bones of the Bryde's whale. Eventually, the tribe intends to hang the reassembled skeleton in its museum in Shelton.









Terry Patton further cleans the whale bones in a container of boiling water. The bones will then be soaked, dried and sealed for display.









Tribal member Wilson Johns places tagged and cleaned bones of a Bryde's whale in a watertight compartment where they'll be further cleaned and bleached. The Bryde's whale has never been documented before in these waters.








Washington: In January, a visitor from distant waters arrived in Puget Sound. The Squaxin Island tribe did what their ancestors taught them: they welcomed an honored guest.

The visitor was a dead Bryde whale. Bryde whales live in tropical waters and have never been reported north of California.

"We felt very sure it was a gift from the Creator," said David Lopeman, Squaxin tribal chairman. "And we were going to treat it right."

Usually when a dead whale washes ashore, federal officials tow it out to deep water to decompose. But Squaxin Island tribal members believe the whale chose to die there because it would be treated with respect. They were granted permission to keep the whale.

The whale was just under 39 feet long, and young. It had a tough life: there were healed prop scars on its back, and marks on its flukes from an entanglement.

Neither injury seemed to have played a role in the animal's death. Instead, it seems to have starved. No food was found in its system, and its blubber was thin.

Tests on samples from the whale will help scientists learn why it died and what brought it here.

"It is a mammal, like us. And we are people of the water," Lopeman said. "It's special. Maybe it was sick and it wanted to go and die in a safe place and knew we were going to treat it well. And so it gave itself to us. And we decided we are going to treat it right, so our children could always say we did."

Tribal members are washing the flesh from the whale's bones, and paring the last bits away with a knife.

Next the bones will be soaked in hydrogen peroxide, then dried, then sealed. The whale's reassembled skeleton will be hung in the tribal museum for all to share.

"This is everyone's whale," said Rhonda Foster from the Squaxin Island Tribe's Cultural Resources Department.

The Squaxin Island people have long and deep ties to whales. Fire pits at their archaeological site included bits of cooked whale bone, Foster said.

If this whale had washed ashore 300 years ago, her people would have celebrated with a feast.

The tribe had a feast for this whale. They served elk chili and homemade biscuits covered with a wild blackberry sauce and vanilla ice cream.

Like their ancestors, today's 1,022 Squaxin members still depend on the oysters, clams, geoduck and salmon for food. Their lives revolve around the seasonal gifts of Puget Sound.

This whale isn't their first surprise. The Salish Sea often carries  in unexpected things. Recently, it brought in a six-foot sturgeon caught in a fisherman's net.

But even the ordinary feels special in this place that has nurtured them for so many generations, tribal members said.

"It is our life," Foster said of the Sound. "Our ancestors said all life begins here."

As she spoke, a loud downpour began and rattled the tent over their work area. As the last whale bones were packed away for safekeeping, a great gust of wind blew up the beach, and sent the tent flying.

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