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History of Whaling

Brutal Poachers On The Prowl


        Archaeological evidence suggests that the practice of whaling had long been present in the North Atlantic and North Pacific by 3000 BC and has continued in remote cultures to the present day. The primary victims were small, easily beached whales or larger specimens that came close to shore during seasonal migrations from wintry feeding grounds to breed in sheltered bays. The Japanese used nets, and the Aleuts used poisoned spears.. In Europe, the Nordic people hunted small whales, and Icelandic laws dealt with whaling in the 13th century. At that time Britain, in order to support its industrial revolution, took over as the principal European whaling nation. During the great age of early commercial whaling in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the chief vessels used to capture whales were relatively light double-ended rowing boats. A crew of only six men put off in pursuit of a whale with hand harpoons and a coiled line to "play" the whale, which was killed with a hand lance when it was sufficiently exhausted.

      American boats were usually only 30 feet (9 meters) long and made of cedar, while the British boats were stronger. Both northern and southern commercial whaling entered a period of severe decline around 1860. The United States fleet of over 700 vessels declined rapidly, owing partially to excess whaling but chiefly to the discovery, in Pennsylvania in 1859, of petroleum, which replaced whale oil in the lamps and candles of America. The Dutch fleet had collapsed early in the century. The British Arctic fleet was devastated in the 1830s and 1840s by over-fishing and ice and by the introduction of vegetable oil, steel-boned corsets, and gas-fired lamps. Residual activity, however, continued in the South Pacific and Davis Strait, in the northern Atlantic Ocean, until the eve of World War I. After World War II, so important was whale oil to the fat rations of Europe that a wave of newer, larger factories and more powerful diesel-engine ships was built, backed up by airplanes, helicopters, and support shipping

       For centuries whales have been hunted for their meat, which has been used as food for humans as well as other animals. Europeans used harpoons to kill whales from whaling boats at least ten centuries ago. By the 1600s most of the coastal countries had major permanent whaling operations in the Arctic, where several of the larger species were once abundant. In the late 1800s the invention of the explosive harpoon gave whalers an added advantage in capturing the faster and more powerful species. In the early 20th century, whale factory ships began to accompany the harpoon boats in order to process the whales in a commercially efficient manner. More than 50,000 whales a year were killed by whaling operations during some years in the mid-1900s, before restrictions and enforcement became effective. However, a few nations still permit whaling operations, which now use underwater sonar, helicopter spotters and powerboats among other gimmicks that lay a potential danger to the whales desperate bid for survival.

       Whales provided a variety of products of use to humans besides food. Whale oil was first used as lamp fuel and as a lubricant. Later uses included the making of glycerin, soaps, creams, and margarine. Whale oil was also used in the paint, varnish, and printing-ink industries. A waxy material known as spermaceti, which fills the head cavity of the sperm whale, has been used to make cosmetic creams, ointments, and candy. Spermaceti is a crystalline form of oil in the sperm whale and was erroneously believed by early whalers to be coagulated semen. Ambergris is an oily substance formed in the intestines of some, presumably diseased, sperm whales. Ambergris is used as a fixative in making perfume. Much of these uses prompted even more potential poachers to strike at an accelerated speed, in the process reducing substantial numbers of today's whale population.

       About two dozen countries have engaged in commercial whaling at one time or another. But because of the decline in the demand for whale products and the threat of endangering many whale species, most have stopped their whaling expeditions. In 1937, the International Whaling Agreement was signed by the whaling nations in an attempt to conserve whales. The agreement placed minimum length restrictions on whales taken and established a three-month whaling season. The number of whaling vessels per country was also limited. However, some authorities consider these initial regulations to have been politically and commercially motivated rather than a sincere effort to protect whales.

       1946 saw what was to be the whales’ best hope of survival, in which the establishment of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) turned  the tables against poachers and the likes.  The guidelines implemented by the IWC followed by whaling nations today by whaling nations today. The sizes, kinds, locations, and seasons of catches are controlled. However, strong international politics came into play, and some nations steadfastly voted against, or even ignored, restrictions that were not economically advantageous. The limitations were passed almost too late for the blue whale, which had already declined to dangerously low numbers in all oceans. The once large populations of blue whales in the eastern North Atlantic were almost brought to extinction. Today, fewer than 500, and possibly as few as 100, are found there. In 1971, the United States declared all commercially exploited whales endangered species and made it illegal to import any whale products. The United States lists the blue, bowhead, finback, gray, humpback, right, sei, and sperm whales as endangered species.