The Giants of the Bering Sea

The Giants of the Bering Sea

The Bering Sea tops the Pacific Ocean and is framed by Russia on the west and Alaska on the east. There is a point at which the two land masses almost meet, and, indeed, is widely thought at one point that sea level was so low as to allow the first of the human migration on what is now called the “Bering Land Bridge”. Bering Sea

The population of whales in the Bering Sea during the turn of the 20th Century is unknown, but probably the most common among them included right whales and bowhead whales. My grandfather recounted his being shanghaied on the barque the “Northern Light” and whale hunting experience in his book, “Lucky Joe”. Shanghai was a common practice as it was extremely difficult to recruit seamen willing to board a whaler for upwards of a year. The work was nasty, extremely dangerous, and often resulted in the lack of any pay as the sailor often owed the ship’s “slop chest” for materials (such as boots and coats) necessary to survive the frigid Alaskan waters.

Taking the Whale     The three-block area of San Francisco known as the Barbary Coast, so named after the Barbary Coast of North Africa, mirrored all that was evil. Well known for gambling halls, prostitution, and saloons, the population swelled with ex-convicts, thugs, and despots following the discovery of gold. Miners and sailors looking for female companionship and entertainment became the primary clientele during its heyday in the 1850’s and 1860’s and hit its peak in alcoholic consumption by the 1890’s. Sailors were an obvious and easy target and quite lucrative for the crimps. (Shanghaiing or crimping refers to the practice of kidnapping men for labor aboard ships  and those persons were known as crimps. This often violent practice was heavily performed in San Francisco, Portland (OR), and Seattle (WA). The Seaman’s Act of 1915 finally made crimping a federal crime.)

“A whaler’s life is hell, me lads,

Blow boys, bully boys, blow!

We caught a rotten whale, me lads,

Blow boys, bully boys, blow!

The captain’s drunk and so am I,

All hands are sick and ‘bout to die,

But we don’t care a hang, but cry,

Blow boys, bully boys, blow!”

Virginia Williams