Whaling harpoon

Made:
1800-1900
maker:
Unknown

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Whaling harpoon (c. 1850). From a colour transparency in the Science Museum Photographic Archive.
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Whaling harpoon (c. 1850). From a colour transparency in the Science Museum Photographic Archive.
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Whaling harpoon (c. 1850)

People have long hunted whales on a subsistence basis, but this gradually transformed into an entire industry. By the mid-1700s, it had become difficult to find whales near the Atlantic coast and the focus shifted to the Arctic and later the Pacific and the Antarctic. Whaling in the Northern Hemisphere reached a peak in the mid-19th century, although Antarctic whaling continued, on an industrial scale, well into the 20th century.

In the 19th century, whales were caught using harpoons like this one. Men in small boats would set out from the large whaling ship to hunt and catch whales. Whales were shot with the harpoon, which embedded in the whale and then crews waited for the whale to die. Crews were sometimes dragged for miles behind whales as they tired. Once the whale had been killed, it was taken back to the whale ship to be processed for its oil and other by-products, such as baleen (often known as whalebone).

Details

Category:
Water Transport
Object Number:
1959-18
Materials:
iron and wood (unidentified)
type:
whaling vessel
taxonomy:
  • furnishing and equipment
  • vehicle - transportation
  • furnishing and equipment
  • weapons and ammunition
  • weapon
  • edged weapon
  • furnishing and equipment
  • vehicle - transportation
  • watercraft
credit:
Bethnal Green Museum

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