The Whale Hunters of Lamalera

In eastern Indonesia the village of Lamalera on the south coast of Lembata Island and facing the Savu Sea, has carried out whaling for centuries. This is one of the few places in the world where people are still allowed to hunt whales, as long as they continue to only use traditional methods.

Maumere to Lembata - Copy

Lamalera 062 - CopyIt is the sperm whales that are hunted as they migrate between the Indian and Pacific Oceans through the Lembata Strait. An average of 20 whales are captured each year during the whaling season, but when we were there this year the whaling season had nearly finished and only 3 whales had been captured, so the fishermen were forced to hunt whale sharks, dolphins and manta ray to provide food for the village.

IMG_1445 - Copy

Each of the different clans in the village have their own traditional wooden whale boats housed along the beach and ready to go to sea whenever migrating whales are spotted from whale watching platforms high above the village. Each boat is decorated with the clan symbol and manned by a crew of 8-12, including an experienced harpooner.

IMG_1491 - CopyThe hunt involves sailing close to the whale and then rowing furiously to close the gap. The harpooner then leaps onto the back of the whale and uses his body weight to embed the harpoon deep into its flesh. This is a dangerous occupation because sometimes people get hurt as arms and legs get entangled in the ropes, boats capsize as the speared whale dives deep, or the whale boat is towed far out to sea.

Lamalera 074 - CopyThe whale meat is cut up on the beach and then dried on racks. The villages use the whale meat for their own food and as a trade item with villages on other islands in the region.

The Ombak Putih will be sailing again to Lamalera and the other eastern Indonesian islands from September 15-26 in 2016. Please find the details at

About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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2 Responses to The Whale Hunters of Lamalera

  1. charlotte woerner says:

    And the village ladies are fantastic weavers ….

  2. Pingback: Whaling | TheFirstNationsCanada Blog

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