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Subsistence Whaling and the Norse Diaspora: Norsemen, Basques, and Whale Use in the Western North Atlantic, CA. AD 900–1640

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Abstract

By 1640, the first phase of one of North America’s earliest entrepreneurial ventures had already come and gone. In the early sixteenth century, Basque whalers crossed the North Atlantic by the hundreds, then thousands, and settled in Labrador.1 For many Europeans coming to the shores of Atlantic Canada in this period, cod was king, but whales were a close second. Right and bowhead whales brought the Basques to the shores of Labrador by 1520, where they founded about a dozen whaling stations on the Strait of Belle Isle.2 Over the course of a century, Basque whalers, especially those at the great whaling station of Red Bay, took an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 whales from North American waters.3 The cold Labrador Current carried ample food for migrating right and bowhead whales. Season after season, the Basques migrated along with the whales, finding both hardship on land and great fortune at sea in all those whales passing to and fro along the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Keywords

Archaeological Evidence Baleen Whale Bowhead Whale Hunting Ground Underwater Archaeology 
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Notes

  1. 1.
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© Benjamin Hudson 2012

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