Saturday, 06 October 2012 10:37
Recently, we spent the day at Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea. We explored a 19th century coastal village. We had the opportunity to climb aboard tall ships and learn about things like whaling, harvesting clams, making barrels, and navigation.
On board a whaling ship
There is even a working preservation shipyard at Mystic Seaport. The ship they are currently working to restore is the Charles W. Morgan. This ship is the last surviving wooden whaling ship. It was built in 1841 in New Bedford, MA. That means it is 171 years old! The Morgan had an 80-year whaling career until it was retired in 1921. Dave and I had the chance to walk on the ship's deck and inside. We decided that we prefer traveling in our small kayaks and camping in our tent compared to the cramped quarters that the crew lived in for years at a time.
Below the deck of the Charles W. Morgan
Why where whales hunted?
I bet you are wondering why people would hunt whales. Before petroleum oil was discovered, whale oil was used for lighting and lubrication. Several other things were harvested from whales in addition to whale oil. They include baleen (used for corsets, hoop skirts, brushes and other things), spermaceti (used to make candles) and ambergris (used in perfumes and for medicinal purposes).
Ships like the Morgan hunted for Sperm Whales, Right Whales and Bowhead Whales. These three species of whale were easier to catch than other species. They could harvest a lot of the desired products from these whales. The other factor that influenced their choice of whales is that these three types of whale would remain floating after they were killed.
A Mystic Seaport staff member describing the use of the harpoon
How did they catch whales?
When whales were spotted from the ship, smaller boats would be launched to pursue the whales. These boats were rowed, sailed or paddled. Once they got really close to the whale, a harpoon with a long rope would be thrust into the whale. This would basically attach the boat to the whale. The whale would most likely swim away until it grew tired. This part of the process (the boat being dragged by the whale) was called the Nantucket Sleighride. Can you imagine paddling up to a 50 ft long creature that weighs 120,000 lbs and then being dragged behind it?! When the whale stopped swimming, the crew would bring the boat close again and kill it with a long lance or firearm. The crew would then have a long row back to the ship, towing the whale behind their boat.
Further Exploration and Sources
The Charles W. Morgan Whaling Ship: http://www.mysticseaport.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=2103ED05-65B8-D398-7609445B7A947310
Current Whaling Issues: http://www.opsociety.org/issues/whaling
Ambergris: http://www.ambergris.co.nz/about.htmblog comments powered by Disqus