The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast feature killer whales throughout their history, art, spirituality and religion. The Haida regarded killer whales as the most powerful animals in the ocean, and their mythology tells of killer whales living in houses and towns under the sea. According to these myths, killer whales took on human form when submerged, and humans who drowned went to live with them. For the Kwakwaka’wakw, the killer whale was regarded as the ruler of the undersea world, with sea lions for slaves and dolphins for warriors. In Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth mythology, killer whales may embody the souls of deceased chiefs. The Tlingit of southeastern Alaska regarded the killer whale as custodian of the sea and a benefactor of humans.
The Maritime Archaic people of Newfoundland also had great respect for killer whales, as evidenced by stone carvings found in a 4,000 year old burial site at the Port au Choix National Historic Site.
In the tales and beliefs of the Siberian Yupik people, killer whales are said to appear as wolves in winter, and wolves as killer whales in summer. Killer whales are believed to assist their hunters in driving walrus. Reverence is expressed in several forms: the boat represents the animal, and a wooden carving hung from the hunter’s belt. Small sacrifices such as tobacco are strewn into the sea for them. Killer whales were believed to have helped the hunters even when in wolf guise, by forcing reindeer to allow themselves to be killed.