Passamaquoddy Hunting History

May 13, 1900
Death-Like Stillness During the Porpiose Hunt


Father O’Dowd during his 14 years among them frequently accompanied the Indians on their early morning fishing excursions to far off Grand Manan. Before sunrise a fleet of canoes would push off from Pleasant Point with 5 or 6 men in each canoe, each man armed and alert in the hunt for the seal, porpoise, seagull, muskrat or mink. It is an exciting experience to the uninitiated, as the canoes are paddled noiselessly through the water, every eye skimming the surface as the first rays of sun light up the bay.

The hunt for the porpoise is the most soul stirring to the stranger from the white man’s country. A death like stillness pervades the atmosphere over hanging Passamaquoddy Bay when in quick succession, a dozen gunshots awaken the echoes and canoes are pushed along at utmost speed toward wounded porpoises floundering in the water. The man at the bow seizes the porpoise by its big fins, when the canoe arrives within reaching distance, and allows him to flounder until, with a favorable plunge the peculiar denizen of the deep is landed in the canoe. When it is considered that they weigh from 100 to 300 pounds it will be realized what a dexterous feat the Indian performs when he accomplishes the task without upsetting the canoe.

A curious feature about hunting the porpoise is that if the fish is killed outright as a result of the marksman’s bullet it sinks immediately. The aim of the hunter is therefore, to shoot below the head and between the shoulders if possible.

After the capture the animals are brought ashore and dissected. The flesh adjoining the backbone is cut out and boiled in 3 or 4 waters and from this is prepared stew. The boiling takes place in a brazen cauldron over a brisk fire of brushwood. “Everyone knows how delicious is a genuine Irish stew,” said the former Reverend among the Passamaquoddy. “Well, an Indian stew from porpoise meat is palatable dish too.”

From 4 to 5 gallons of oil is generally taken from the porpoise and makes the best lubricating oil in use, averaging something less than a dollar a gallon. The objection to it is peculiar odor.

Hunting the seal, though pathetic to the uninitiated, is nevertheless, an exciting event.

With conditions favorable an early morning start brings the Indians to the rocks of Grand Manan at dead low tide. The families of seals are resting quietly on the rocks. The Indians with clubs surround the family parties. The fathers and mothers of the several families, scenting danger attempt to drag their young to the water but finding the fate of their young doomed make haste to save themselves by retreating towards the water’s edge barking all the way.

After the young seals have been put out of earthly trouble they are taken far up from the high tide mark and divided among the captors according to the age of the members of the party, the oldest receiving the lion’s share and the youngest getting what is undivided.

The hunts for the gulls, the muskrat and the mink are equally interesting. The Indians eat the meat from all their catches not excepting the muskrat, which makes a feast that is rare and rich. From the skins mats, moccasins, gloves, etc., are made, all of which add to the general currency at Pleasant Point.