He had tried many times to find the mysterious island, but alas to no avail. No-one could tell him where the island of the whale graveyard was in the Nuuk fjord in Greenland exactly. All he knew was that he had to be at a certain time and a certain place. Then one day, he found it – and the other week, we were also lucky enough to experience this impressively stinky place.
To M, the whale graveyard was but fishermen’s folklore for some time.
Our friend had seen the whale graveyard in photos, so had tried to sail to where the scenery matched the angles in the images. Nevertheless it was difficult to pinpoint the exact location. The effort paid off though and he was eventually able to discover it with his friend.
You could smell it before you saw it. When the breeze blew the right way, the stench of dead whale was overpowering.
The whale graveyard is an area in the Nuuk fjord where the fishermen drag the huge mammal to after they have captured it.
The whale is too big and heavy to drag to shore, so the whalers bring it to a site where when the tide is low land appears. When the island reappears from the sea the fishermen can set foot on it and proceed to carve the whale up. The last whale was slaughtered only recently, and half the tail was still visible.
You should take care if you ever walk on the island; it’s a slippery jungle of seaweed and whale carcasses.
It was an incredible and utterly humbling experience. As I stood next to the decaying remains of this once-majestic creature, I could only feel small and inconsequential. I felt dwarfed by the size of the bones. Its density. The weight. The sheer size.
I also lifted up an older whale disk, and that was so so so heavy.
I should probably note that in Greenland, whale is a traditional food eaten by the local people. In the past seal and whale was their primary diet, and even though they can get access to more varied products today, it remains a core part of Inuit identity and cuisine. Besides food, the whale blubber was collected for its oil and the bones used for practical matters like tools and simple furniture.
Today, whale bone is also used for art.
The baleen, which is the filter system of the whale (below) is often processed and polished into a shiny black material. You can find baleen used in the more artistic souvenirs. However if you’re here and want to buy a souvenir, watch out – you cannot export baleen to all countries.
I can’t speak for my companions, but it was an eye-opening experience (excuse the photo-pun).
The feeling wasn’t quite being a kid in a candy store, but definitely rather like a kid journeying to the mysterious island (bewildering and thrilling)!
Even more thrilling was seeing real-life whales swimming in the sea straight after!
- Mysterious mass whale graveyard unearthed in the Chilean desert (mnn.com)
- Trout fishing with bare hands in Nuuk (thefourthcontinent.com)
- A sailing adventure to the abandoned fishing village of Kangeq (thefourthcontinent.com)
- For The Love Of Sailing: It’s Worth The World! (thefourthcontinent.com)
- The bullets, three reindeer and love in Greenland (thefourthcontinent.com)
- Magical Greenland: Icebergs and whales (fourthcontinent.com)