Skip booklet index and go to page content

COSEWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Basking Shark (Pacific population) in Canada

Aboriginal Knowledge

There are few known records referring to Aboriginal use of basking sharks. George (2003) mentions that there is a stream in Clayoquot Sound called ‘Shark Creek’ which is named after the Nuu-Chah-Nulth place name, mamach-aqtlnit, which is the translation for basking shark. Drucker (1951) explains how Nootkan tribes in the 1850s harpooned big “mud sharks” using sealing harpoons and how hunting them was not dangerous or difficult as the shark was not “wary”. 

Dawson (1880) reported that, “large sharks are much feared by the Haidas, who allege that they frequently break their canoes and eat the unfortunate occupants. No instance of this kind is known to me, but they fear to attack these creatures. When, however, one of them is stranded, or found from any cause in a moribund state, they are not slow to take advantage of its condition, and from the liver extract a large quantity of oil.

The Province newspaper in 1944 published an article about the Huu-ay-aht Whaling Chief John Moses (Barkley Sound) who “on any sunny day when the water is reasonably calm” would paddle his dugout canoe, sometimes 10 miles offshore to kill basking sharks by means of “heavy spear attached to 600 feet of half-inch rope”. Once speared, a struggle would sometimes extend over a period of six hours, after which time he would tie the dead basking shark astern and set out to tow it back to shore--10 miles away. The incentive for the trip was $80 for selling the liver.