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August 7, 2007

Alaskan natives kill whale wounded in hunt 120 years ago

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Native Alaskan hunters have found part of a 19th century weapon embedded in the shoulder of a bowhead whale, leading scientists to believe the animal was wounded in a hunt almost 120 years ago.

The conical bomb fragment measuring almost nine centimeters long (3.5 inches long) was embedded in the shoulder blade of the whale killed last month, said John Bockstoce from the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts.

The fragment was from a type of time delay bomb patented in 1879 and produced until 1885. The fragment bore traditional markings engraved by native Alaskan hunters to claim their kills, he told AFP.

The fragment had probably been embedded in the animal since around 1890, give or take a few years, he added.

Bockstoce said the bomblet was probably fired from a shoulder gun or a deck mounted weapon but failed to hit any of the whale’s vital organs.

“I’m sure it didn’t make his day very happy,” but he still managed to survive the hunt and carry it around for more than 100 years, Bockstoce said.

He was unable to say how old the whale was, but said it “had to be big enough to be worth killing” when it survived the hunt.

Native Alaskans now hunt whales under a quota system agreed upon as part of an aboriginal subsistence exemption to an international moratorium on commercial whaling in place for more than 20 years.

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