Time to put your ID thinking caps on. Take a second and think about how you'd solve the following problem using design:
1) You feed your family by fishing in frigid Alaska, out on the open water in a dugout canoe.
2) If you catch a fish that's too big, it'll capsize your boat and you'll drown.
3) If you catch a fish that's too small, you're killing an infant that isn't a meal-worthy size—and more importantly, hasn't yet had a chance to reproduce, and you want that fish population to continually replenish itself, for the sake of the next generation.
So you're looking for that Goldilocks fish. How do you ensure that fish of only a certain size get caught on your hook? Absent nylon netting, Native Alaskans designed a very clever device to achieve this aim.
By observing their prey, these Inuit fishermen saw that the fish in question, halibut, did not nibble at bait; instead they opened their mouths wide in an attempt to inhale it. They then came up with these precisely-sized, hand-carved wooden objects accompanied by a bone barb:
Can you figure out how it works?
The bait is placed inside the object's "mouth," near the crook of the "V." And the overall object is sized such that a small fish cannot open their mouths wide enough to get to the bait and become hooked by the barb. A too-large fish, meanwhile, has a mouth that spans the maximum width of the object, meaning they can't get stuck by the barb either. Only the Goldilocks halibut can reach the bait and become hooked by the barb.
The Halibut Hook, as it's referred to by the Smithsonian and other museums, surely deserves a design award; it was sourced from local materials, locally produced, contributes to sustainability by allowing the fish population to replenish itself, and it's pure form-follows-function. And the unnamed designers should get extra credit for carving the hooks into attractive, animal-spirit-inspired shapes.
While it looks small in the photos, it actually isn't. The following video gives you a sense of the object's scale, and a modern-day user describes how he uses it to fish:
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This video features a Haida man from Haida Gwaii, islands off the B.C. coast, not Inuit and not from Alaska.
Thanks for flagging this, Nick. We made the correction.
" ...fishing in the frigid Alaska."
Really cool hook idea, wonder why noone designs one like those in our days(probably no need for it, but still would be interesting to see how effective it is). I've only recently got into fishing and have been reading all of the articles on fishing gear like https://www.kstatecollegian.com/2022/04/20/must-have-fishing-gear-guide/ and a few others, hence how I ended up here looking at this bizzare hook!)
Inuit and other coastal indigenous peoples used to hunt seals, walruses and whales from their kayaks. I don't think a Halibut would capsize the boat. Also, anyone who's kayaked before knows that if you capsize in a kayak, no big deal, just use the paddle to right yourself. The hook is amazing though. I would like to try it today and see how it works.
Not sure about the "dugout canoe" reference. I think skin boats were more common (kayaks, umiaks, etc.).