oil from a whale

But plenty of sperm whales lost the battle, and very cruelly too. The harpoons didn’t usually kill the whale, that was the job of the lance, That had to be thrown accurately and twisted. Descriptions mention the bloody sea all around the dying whale.

Then the whale was towed back to the ship to be cut into pieces. The blubber, which was not soft fat as we imagine but hard, was cut into large pieces called blankets. Then these were cut into squares about one foot by one foot and then minced. These small pieces were boiled in try pots, or kettles, upon the brick stove which looked sort of like a fire pit, called the try works. The oil was boiled out of this and then the remains were thrown into the fire. Descriptions mention the black greasy cloud of smoke that hung over the whale ships for days.

The sperm whales were prized because their heads contained a chamber, called the case, which contained many barrels of oil. The case was cut open and the oil drained.

. The size of the whale did not determine how many barrels of oil were acquired from the whale and the number of barrels was the final determination of a successful trip. One account  described the taking of a smallish whale that still produced 91 barrels of oil.

Whale bone, which was actually taken from the teeth, was also much in demand in this day when women wore corsets. At one time, whale bone was valued at $6.00 per pound, a large sum at that time.

And sometimes whalers found ambergris. It is thought that ambergris was a secretion that formed around a scar or other injury. It t was very valuable as a fixer for perfumes. In those days, the perfume was usually attar of roses. Ambergris is still used sometimes for very expensive perfumes but for most  the scent is fixed with something synthetic.A good thing in my opinion.

The whale industry began dying a rapid death after oil was discovered in Pennsylvania in the mid 1800’s, at least in the U.S. Other countries take whales to this day. What a shame! IMHO these magnificent animals should be left alone.


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