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Whaling

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Whaling is one of the oldest forms of hunting known to man. Whaling research papers note, “Indications that primitive man used the carcasses of stranded whales have been found in his refuse piles around the North Sea,” while drawings of whales have been found carved into rock in Norway.  Whales are the largest creatures ever to have existed, with full grown blue whales reaching ninety feet in length, and they have been hunted as long as men have put into boats with instruments to attack them.  “This exceptional denizen of the deep, with the same blood temperature as our own, has been pursued by men for centuries with pitiless persistence, killed after the infliction of terrible suffering”.

Whaling

The Golden Age of American whaling began in 1835.  Soon, there were 421 vessels operating out of 30 ports along the American seaboard, primarily in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  New Bedford, Massachusetts built its wealth and reputation solely on whaling, and it is there that, in Moby Dick, Ishmael goes, ostensibly on his way to Nantucket.  “From New Bedford, the greatest whaling port of all, ships went anywhere if there was a chance of making a profit out of the whale”.  In 1849, two years before the publication of Melville's Moby Dick, New Bedford was the most important whaling port in the world, carrying the fourth highest tonnage capacity in the United States.

The first sperm whale was harpooned in 1712 by Captain Christopher Hussey, out of Nantucket.  It was soon discovered that the sperm whale’s most characteristic feature is its enormous head, comprising one-third of the creature’s body. The haul of oil from a single whale was enormous.  For example, on May 15, 1879, the William Martin sailed out of Provincetown.  It put back into New Bedford on September 18, carrying 163 barrels of sperm oil, “the product of seven whales”.  A single adult sperm whale could contain 1890 gallons of oil.  At the zenith of the New England whaling industry (1853), some $10,730,637 worth of whale products reached port.

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