There is no doubt that whales can communicate with each other. Some scientists are trying to crack the code of whale communication so that we humans can understand what they are saying, and even talk to them. But, as reported by Krista Langlois in Hakai magazine, there are several indigenous tribes who already believe they can communicate with whales — in a spiritual way, not a scientific one.
The Yupik are an indigenous people that occupy the far east region of Russia and south central Alaska.
Yupik woman holding walrus tusks (Wikimedia Commons)
The Yupik people who live on St. Lawrence Island, which is located between Alaska and Russia, believe that whales will willingly position themselves to be harpooned if they like the whaler's boat.
The boat, called a umiak, would have carvings on the bottom of it. According to the Yupik stories, whales will swim underneath the boats to inspect the carvings, as well as the men in the boats. If the carvings are beautiful and the men respectful, the whale will allow the hunters to harpoon it. But if the whale is not satisfied, it will swim away.
This may seem bizarre to an outside observer, but in Yupik culture, it makes perfect sense. After the Yupik kill and eat a beluga whale, they perform a ritual on the bones that enables the whale to be reincarnated as a land animal. The Yupik believe that beluga whales want to undergo this process to return to land.
The Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth peoples live on Washington's Olympic Peninsula and British Columbia's Vancouver Island, respectively.
Makah whalers, circa 1910 (Wikimedia/Public Domain)
These indigenous peoples spend eight months performing rituals to communicate with whales. The rituals include saying prayers, bathing in special pools and singing songs asking the whale to sacrifice itself.
The Iñupiat people carve amulets depicting whales and place them in their boats so the whales can see them.
Iñupiat whalers (National Parks Service)
The goal is to portray the whale in a flattering way in the amulet, in the hope of attracting a whale. The Iñupiat also believe whales will avoid hunters that are disrespectful or selfish.
The common theme among these indigenous peoples is that they all believe whales are intelligent, mystical beings to be respected, not dumb beasts to be conquered. To study these cultures cultivates a new perspective of whaling — one that is not commonly talked about.