The people of Bequia island are one of the three populations in the world for whom whale hunting is tolerated by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). As is true for the Inuit people, whale hunting in Bequia is both a constitutive tradition and a survival need as there are no other natural resources on the island.
However this tolerance comes with very specific conditions, mainly that whale hunting is to remain a traditional and non-commercial activity. Thus no motorboats are allowed to hunt the whales, which is a boon to local tourism as the long and elegant wooden sailboats used for catching them are one of the interesting things to see in Bequia. In addition, only handheld harpoons can be used, no other weapons are permitted, certainly no firearms. Finally, absolutely no product from the caught whales (meat, oil, bones, etc.) may be exported, and only four whales a year are allowed to be killed.
When a whale is caught, it is dragged ashore to be butchered into pieces. Since this activity has to be done in a controlled place it does not happen on the main island. Since the very first days of whale hunting in Bequia (which started soon after the end of slavery there) a whaling facility had been set up on the small nearby island of Petit Nevis. This facility ran for almost 150 years. However, some years ago, the owners of Petite Nevis Island, a former and famous whale-hunting old family itself, decided they did not want to be associated with whale killing anymore and asked for the facility to be moved. Now, a brand new facility has been built on Semplers Cay, an even tinier island closer to the coast of Bequia (you can easily spot it and see the new facility from the village of La Pompe, Bequia). Despite its abandonment, there are still remains of the buildings, the ovens used to heat the “coppers,” and the ramp on which the whales were dragged ashore is also still visible.
Thanks to the strict but permissable restrictions, whale hunting in Bequia remains a tradition and never evolves into an industrial activity. Moreover, even this limited hunt is slowing down and slowly disappearing now that the commercial routes with the other islands nearby are more regular. During the 2013-2014 season, no whales at all were killed in Bequia.
Know Before You Go
To go to Petit Nevis Island, you need to ask permission of the owners and then hire a water-taxi. The easiest way to do so is from the villages of La Pompe or Paget Farm (Bequia). The crossing takes only ten minutes from Bequia. Walking around the island takes two hours max. So you can make a deal with the pilot for him to wait for you there and then take you back. A decent price for this would be EC$ 120 for two persons.