goes back almost to prehistoric times. A whale washing up
on the beach could feed a village or tribe for weeks. In
the arctic, whales are still a major part of the diet of
the Inuit and other tribes. The fat in whale blubber fueled
these arctic tribes through the winter.
one cannot depend upon a whale washing up on the beach to
supply food when needed, at some point man started hunting
them. Many whale species migrate, and early man noticed
the pattern of when they arrived. Early whaling was shore-based,
with lookouts posted on headlands to search for whales.
When a whale was spotted, the entire village would run to
the boats and go hunting. The Basques in Europe were famous
as whalers. Native Indian tribes in America also engaged
in coastal whaling.
time went on, whales became less common alongshore due to
hunting. The whalers had to start going further and further
from home to find whales. If whales were only used for food,
whaling might have died out as agriculture replaced hunting
and gathering. However, whales provided other substances
for which there was no substitute.
Whale oil: Before petroleum was discovered, whale
oil was the primary fuel for lamps. It could also be used
to make candles. All whales have blubber, which is rendered
(melted) into oil.
Also called whale bone or bone. A springy material used
for corsets and other products before we discovered how
to make spring steel and plastics. Right whales and other
whales that filter feed are the primary sources of baleen.
The baleen is used as a filter by whales to capture microscopic
plankton upon which they feed.
A black, semi-liquid, foul-smelling substance found in the
hindgut of Sperm whales. On exposure to air it hardens and
becomes aromatic. Ambergris is thought to be a by-product
of Sperm whales eating squid or cuttlefish. The whales are
unable to digest the beaks which either turn into ambergris,
or ambergris is produced by the whale to soothe their stomach.
Ambergris has been used for thousands of years in perfumes.
More about ambergris.
A waxy substance found in the head of Sperm whales. If is
used for candles and to make fine lubricating oils. The
word spermacetti comes from two latin words - sperma and
cetus. Cetus means whale.
By the 19th Century, man hunted whales for these products,
and discarded the meat. The major American whaling ports
were in New England. Originally, coastal whaling was common
around Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. The primary distant
water whaling ports were New Bedford and Fairhaven in Massachusetts,
Mystic, Connecticut, and Sag Harbor on Long Island, New
like fisherman today, were paid on a share basis. Each whaler
received some share of the profits of the voyage. No profits,
or the ship sinks, no pay. A typical whaling vessel would
have 2,000 shares, divided as follows:
Investors - 1,000 shares
and crew - 1,000 shares
Master (Captain) - 400 shares
First Mate - 200 shares
Second Mate - 100 shares
Third Mate - 75 shares
3 Harpooners (boat steerers) - total of 90 shares [Queequeeg
had 11 shares, or 1/90th]
18 able-bodied seaman - total of 75 shares [Ishmael had
3 shares, or 1/300th]
5 others - total of 60 shares.
These shares are taken from Herman Melville's Moby
By the middle of the 19th Century,
a whaling voyage would last three or four years. The whaler
would leave the East Coast and hunt the South Atlantic,
then venture into the Pacific. Whaling grounds were off
New Zealand and up near the Arctic circle. No vessel could
carry several years worth of food and water, not to mention
fuel to render blubber, so they would reprovision periodically.
Hawaiian Islands became the preferred supply and rest stop
for American whalers. It is not entirely clear why Hawaii
was chosen. Some suggest it was a pleasant climate. Others
that it was willing women, which the missionary influence
ended. Perhaps it was Hawaii's central location in the Pacific
Ocean. Mark Twain suggests two other reasons. First, that
crew members really could not abandon ship easily in Hawaii
- there was no where for them to go. The second reason was
that there were no lawyers in Hawaii. Crew members were
always suing ship captains for various abuses in San Francisco.
Not so in Hawaii. It thus may be that ship captains liked
Hawaii because their crew would not run away or sue them.
See Mark Twain, The
Whaling Trade, The Sacramento Daily Union, May 23, 1866.
estimated that during the peak of whaling, the 1840s, whalers
were spending a $1.5 million a year in Honolulu. He said
there were about 400 whale ships wintering in Hawaii in
those days. By 1866 when Twain was in Honolulu, only 96
whale ships had wintered there. He provides some statistics
on oil and bone landings:
1853 - Oil, 4,000,000 gallons; bone, 2,020,264 pounds.
1858 - Oil, 3,000,000 gallons; bone, 1,614,710 pounds.
1863 - Oil, 732,031 gallons; bone, 337,043 pounds.
1864 - Oil, 642,362 gallons; bone, 339,331 pounds.
1865 - Oil, 621,434 gallons; bone, 337,394 pounds.
This decline in oil and bone landings, and whaling in general,
was a result of several factors. One was a declining population
of whales. The other factor was the American Civil War.
The Civil War created a great demand for ships and seaman.
In addition, part of the Confederate strategy was to engage
in commerce raiding. Confederate naval ships would capture
Union merchant vessels and whalers and either destroy them
or send them to port to be sold. This threat to civilian
vessels greatly increased insurance costs, and caused vessel
owners to avoid risky voyages such as a long whaling trip.
Confederate Navy Department ordered the CSS SHENANDOAH to
cruise the Pacific and specifically target the Union whaling
fleet. Captain James Waddell's orders stated:
"Sir: You are about to proceed upon a cruise in the
far-distant Pacific, into the seas and among the islands
frequented by the great American whaling fleet, a source
of abundant wealth to our enemies and a nursery for their
seamen. It is hoped that you may be able to greatly damage
and disperse that fleet, even if you do not succeed in utterly
destroying it." Detailed Instructions from Commander
Bulloch, C.S. Navy, to Lieutenant J.I. Waddell, C.S. Navy,
October 5, 1864. Source: Cornell University, Making
of America, Official
Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of
Captain Waddell was directed to proceed to the Pacific and
coal in Australia. From Australia he was to cruise the whaling
grounds off New Zealand, and then to the grounds off the
Caroline Islands (Marshall Islands) and the Ladrones (Guam
and Saipan, the Mariana Islands). From there he was to cruise
north along the Bonin and Japanese Islands to the Sea of
Okhotsk and the Bering Sea.
SHENANDOAH captured and destroyed several Union vessels,
one a whaler, in the South Atlantic, and then rounded the
southern tip of Africa, crossed the Indian Ocean, and arrived
in Melbourne, Australia, for coaling. After leaving Australia
the SHENANDOAH hailed the Hawaii schooner PELIN, five months
out of Honolulu on a trading voyage. The Confederates pumped
those on the PELIN for information on the location of American
kept going north to the Caroline Islands and arrived at
Pohnpei, then called Ascension Island. There they found
and destroyed four American whalers. One of the vessels,
the HARVEST, claimed Hawaiian nationality, but the Confederates
rejected that claim since there was no bill of sale onboard.
SHENANDOAH continued north to the Arctic - many whales were
caught within sight of the ice floes. They captured the
bark ABIGAIL of New Bedford and burned her. Several members
of the crew of the ABIGAIL signed up to serve on SHENANDOAH,
including Emmanuel Slyvia (Silva?) and Joe Kanaka. Portuguese
and Hawaii Confederates.
All in all, the SHENANDOAH captured 25 whalers in the Bering
Sea before learning the Civil War had ended. (Note: The
SHENANDOAH would take the crew from whalers onboard before
burning the vessel. The accumulated prisoners would be put
ashore or placed on a captured vessel under bond to take
them to port.) The cruise of the SHENANDOAH, combined
with other factors, decimated the American whaling trade.
supporting the whaling fleet would decline in importance
to Hawaii, the Civil War created another demand - sugar.
Much of the sugar in the United States was produced in the
States that seceded to form the Confederacy, particularly
Twain as a source, the sugar production in Hawaii increased
dramatically (measured in pounds):