Mangaq: Dolphin

Mangat kiagmi amlertaartut, paRaguutami malirkat'urtaakiikut:

Dolphins are plentiful in the summer. In the boat they used to always follow us.

The Pacific white-sided dolphin (lagenorhynchus obliquidens) is a common resident of the deep waters surrounding Kodiak. The average adult is about seven and a half feet long and weighs 300 pounds. They have a black back and beak, grey sides and a white belly. These acrobatic sea mammals are gregarious. They travel in large groups, often with Dall porpoises and occasionally with baleen whales. They eat small schooling fish and squid, and can live up to 45 years.

Archaeological data indicate that Alutiiqs hunted dolphins for millennia. However, they were among the most difficult sea mammals to capture. They are fast swimmers that range far from shore and only surface for a few seconds to breathe. Although they are noted bow riders who like to play around boats, they frighten easily. Historic accounts indicate that hunters pursued dolphins from kayaks. They used throwing boards loaded with special darts or bows and arrows to wound the animals. These weapons were designed to penetrate the animal’s skin and fat. A struck animal dove immediately and the others in its pod disappeared.

Alutiiqs no longer hunt dolphins, except symbolically as carved miniature targets in a traditional dart game known as augca’aq. One Elder says emphatically, “Don’t shoot dolphins because they help you.” This belief may come from Scandinavian folklore. Norwegian, Swedish and Danish mariners, who married into Alutiiq communities, believed that dolphins were good luck and could guide a boat to safety in the fog.

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