The captors are armed with barbed harpoons and with spears. The harpoon is sometimes thrown at the beluga from a considerable distance. When struck the creature rushes to the surface, plunges and rolls to get free. He never defends himself but thinks only of flight. It is an accident if a boat is upset by the stroke of its tail; such accidents sometimes happen but the victim gets little more than a soaking, much to the merriment of his companions. The harpooned beluga will make off at full speed dragging in his wake the assailant’s boat which flies over the face of the water, boiling with the mighty strokes of the monster’s tail. Soon the water is red for each beluga sheds eight or ten gallons of blood. When he is tired the boat is drawn in closer by the rope fastened to the animal. As opportunity offers the spear is used and, driven home by a strong hand, it sometimes goes clear through the body. A skilful man will quickly strike some vital spot; otherwise the beluga struggles long.
“Picture if possible,” says the Abbe, “the animation of the beluga hunt when a hundred of them are in the weir, when twenty-five or thirty men are pursuing them, when five or six boats dragged by the creatures are ploughing the enclosed waters in every direction, when the spears are hurled from all sides and the men are covered with the blood which gushes out in streams. Some years ago the passengers of a passing steamer from Europe were witnesses of such a scene and showed their keen interest by firing a salvo of cannon.”
When the belugas have been killed the next task is to get them to shore. The work must be done quickly for the next tide will stop all work and may sweep the animals away. Horses are brought and the bodies are dragged ashore or partly floated with the aid of the rising tide. The task of cutting up and boiling follows immediately. Workmen with long knives take off the skin and separate the blubber from the flesh. The Abbe Casgrain describes the process in detail. In the end the blubber is cut up into small pieces and boiled in huge caldrons. The poor never fail to come for their share of the catch and, with proverbial charity, the Company carrying on the operations never send them away empty. “The share-holders” says the Abbe Casgrain, “are convinced that the success of their labours depends upon the gifts which they make to God, and their generosity merits His benediction,” Many a habitant goes home with a mass of blubber in his pot or hooked to the end of a stout branch.
The fishery is old and has been very profitable. La Potherie describes the industry as it existed at Kamouraska in 1701: that at Riviere Ouelle is found in 1707 and it remained in the hands of the heirs of the original promoters until, in 1870, it was found necessary to form them into an incorporated company. The oil is highly valued. It is very clear and has good lubricating qualities. Before the universal sway of petroleum it was much used for lighting purposes; an ordinary lamp would burn for 72 hours without going out. The Abbe Casgrain says that a barrel of the oil is worth from 100 to 200 dollars and since each beluga would yield not less than a barrel the value of the fishery in a good season is evident. The skin is very thick and of extraordinary strength. It has no grain and will take a beautiful polish.