HUMANS SWALLOWED BY WHALES
Jonah is spewed forth by the Whale In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle recognized that whales were not fish because they gave birth to live young and nourished them with milk.
There many stories about men being swallowed by whales. The biblical story of Jonah is only one. According to Islam, the whale that swallowed Jonah is one of 10 animals that will go to heaven.
In 1891, an English whaler was reportedly swallowed by a sperm whale. He is said to have spent 24 hours unconscious inside the whale's belly and survived, with the only long term affects being a slightly deranged personality and bleached skin. In a better documented case a sailor was swallowed by a sperm whale in 1994. This man was dead after 24 hours and was partially digested.
Websites and Resources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noaa.gov/ocean ; Smithsonian Oceans Portal ocean.si.edu/ocean-life-ecosystems ; Ocean World oceanworld.tamu.edu ; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute whoi.edu ; Cousteau Society cousteau.org ; Montery Bay Aquarium montereybayaquarium.org
Websites and Resources on Fish and Marine Life: MarineBio marinebio.org/oceans/creatures ; Census of Marine Life coml.org/image-gallery ; Marine Life Images marinelifeimages.com/photostore/index ; Marine Species Gallery scuba-equipment-usa.com/marine
19th century whaling The first whalers are believed to have been 10th century Basques and Norwegians. The Basques first used small boats to harpoon right whales migrating down the French and Spanish coast. By the 16th century the Basques had traveled as far as Newfoundland, where they caught whales and towed them to shore during high tide, striped the fat from the flesh, boiled it to extract lamp and cooking oil and let the high tide carry away the carcass. In medieval times, the Japanese also practiced whaling, mainly along its coasts.
Some of the early colonizers of North America were quick to see the potential offered by whaling. A pilgrim on the Mayflower observed: “Every day we saw whales playing hard by us, of which in that place, if we had instruments and means to take them, we might have made a very rich return.”
John Smith, the English soldier and explorer and sometime pirate, known best for wooing Pocahontas, wrot e in his Description of New England Smith that his crew “found that Whale-fishing a costly conclusion, We saw many and spent much time chasing them, but could not kill any. They being a kind of Jubartes [humpback], and not the Whale that yields Finness [baleen] and Oyle as we expected.” The first to exploit the resource were settlers who found whales washed up on the shores.
Shore whaling began around the mid 17th century. In this era, lookouts were stationed at the top of tall sand dunes and hills and cried “Whale off!” when they spotted a potential target, The whalers then pushed their small boat into the surf and rowed over to the whale. If they got close enough they harpooned the beast and held on to the rope for dear life, taking a scary but exhilarating ride across the waves, in what would later be called a “Nantucket sleigh ride.” When the whale tired it was stabbed with a steel knife. Success was marked by a gusher of blood spouting from the blowhole, to which the whalemen to let out the cheer: “Chimney’s a fire!’”
whaling in the 18th century, drawing from Cook expedition
It wasn’t long before the near-shore whaling resources were deleted and the first whaling companies were founded to fund large ships and whalemen, with “fighting Quakers” taking the lead, were sailing out of Nantucket into “ye deep” in pursuit of sperm, right and humpback whales. Between the 1710s and 1740s, Nantucket’s annual oil production soared from 600 barrels to 11,250 barrels, with a whale yielding between 120 and 200 barrels of oil. Burdensome British taxes on American whaling was one of the perceived injustices that led to the battle cry “taxation without representation.”
The more whales that were killed the farther whalers had to go find new whales. Deep sea whaling began in the 18th century. The English followed by the Dutch established large scale whaling operations in the early 1700s. They were later joined by Russians and Americans. In the early whaling days, whales were harpooned from small boats and their carcasses was towed back to the main ship for oil removal and cutting up.
Book: Leviathan, The History of Whaling in America by Eric Jay Dolin (W.W. Norton)
Whaling at Its Peak
Increased demand for whale oil in the early 19th century resulted in a boom in the whaling industry and the production of ships that could stay at sea for three or four years. Clean-burning whale oil pressed from the blubber and flesh was used in lamps, including those in lighthouses and parish lamps installed in London as an anticrime measure. Sperm oil was valued as a lubricant and also made into high-quality candles. There was also a market for whalebone (actually baleen) used in corsets, umbrellas, brushes and whips. Ambergris from sperm whales was a highly sought-after perfume ingredient.
whaling in 1854
In the mid 19th century whaling arguably played as important a role in the American economy at that time as the automobile industry did in the 20th century. In 1846, 735 of the 900 whaling ships worldwide sailed under American flags. Among those that were on the ships was Herman Melville, who signed on as an ordinary seaman on the whaling ship Acushnet out of Fairhavem, Massachusetts in 1841.
In 1853, the most lucrative whale year in the United States, more than 70,000 people were employed in the hunting and processing of whales and 8,000 killed whales yielded 103,000 barrels of sperm oil, 260,000 barrels of whale oil and 2,590 tons of baleen. Eric Jay Dolin, author Leviathan, The History of Whaling in America , wrote: “Much of America’s culture, economy and in fact its spirit were literally and figuratively rendered from the bodies of whales.”
When whalers came across a mother and calf they usually went after the slow calf first because they knew the cries of the baby would eventually draw the mother near. They avoided many large whales because they sank after the were killed. Penguins were boiled and their oil was used to waterproof their boats.
For seamen the whaling life was no picnic. Voyages averaged four years in length. Dangers and disease were constant concerns. The seamen missed their loved ones and were lucky to still have them when the returned home. Almost every day was the same meal of bread and beef jerky, augmented with seals or a turtles killed at some remote ocean island. And for all that whalemen weren’t paid much. They jumped ship when better opportunities—such as the Gold Rush in California in 1849—beckoned. A year Melville signed on he deserted his ship in the Marquesas Islands and lived for three weeks with the Typee natives, who were called cannibals by other tribal groups on the islands.
whaling in the steam ship era
The whaling industry began dying in the late 19th century when petroleum began supplanting whale oil for lamps and candles. In 1861, petroleum, production reached 430,000 barrels, equaling the biggest annual whale oil yield (in 1847). In the years that followed Pennsylvania alone produced 3 million barrels. Whalers could only manage 155,000. The whaling industry limped along mainly by supplying baleen for corsets and that industry died when corset-free fashion were introduced in Paris in 1907. When the Whalemen’s Ship List published its final issue in December 1914, the U.S. whaling fleet had shrunk to just 23 vessels.
Sperm Whales, Whaling and Sunken Ships
Sperm whales are the most numerous of all the great whales. They were hunted heavily in the whaling era and after World War II. In the mid-1970s, 15,000 were still being taken annually. Catching sperm whales is hard because they dive.
There are lots of stories in whaling lore of attacks by sperm whales on ships but documented sperm whale attacks on ships are rare. The most famous one occurred in November 1820, when a large bull, said to be 85 feet long and weigh over 80 tons, rammed the copper-and-oak hull of 238-ton whaleship Essex , sinking her in ten minutes, and leaving 22 men stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific. The eight that survived did so by resorting to cannibalism. The event is recounted in the book In the Heart of Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick (Putnam. 2000).
Survivors said the bull faced the ship, spouted from its blowhole and charged, its forehead piercing the waves and it fluke generating a froth of white water. After the whale swam off “not a word was spoken for several minutes by any of us,” the first mate wrote in his book. “All appeared to be bound in a spell of stupid consternation.” The ship sunk in the middle of the equatorial Pacific. The survivors ironically chose to go to South America 1,800 miles away rather than go to the closer Marquesas Island, in part because the islands were said to be full of cannibals.
Moby Dick, featuring Captain Ahab leading the Pequod to its doom, was inspired by the tale of Essex and written 31 years after the Essex tragedy. Melville met the son of the Essex’s captain on a whaling ship in the Pacific and peppered him with questions about the incident. After the book was published its sales where given a boost when another whaling ship, the Ann Alexander , was smashed and sunk by another enraged sperm whale.
Whaling ships built in the 19th century were not built to withstand attacks from below. Scientists who have studied the matter have estimated that if a large bull applies the same force on a ship that he does on a rival male during the breeding season he could sink the ship.
whaling in the late 18th and early 20th century Modern whaling—with modern factory ships—was invented in the early 20th century in Norway. Whales were killed more efficiently with high-speed chase vehicles outfit with sonar and grenade-tipped harpoons that killed the whales by exploding inside their bodies. Some ships had helicopters or used planes to spot whales from the air.
Killer ships with harpoon guns on their bow surrounded entire pods of whales and killed them all. Big whales were pumped full of air so they didn't sink and flags were placed on them so they could spotted and picked up later. Dead whales were dragged to the factory ship or picked up by ship and processed with assembly-line methods.
The whales were dragged up a ramp on the factory ship with powerful winches. Powerful machines called digesters pressed oil from the blubber, flesh and bone. The remains were either thrown back into the sea or dried and crushed and made into animal feed to fertilizer.
Whaling in the 20th Century
Russian whaling ships Demand for whales grew during World War I, when glycerin from baleen whale oil was used to make explosives. Commercial whalers made their biggest killings when they moved into feeding grounds in the Antarctic, where large numbers of blue whales, humpbacks, Byrde’s, fin and sei whales gathered.
Based in whaling records, scientists have estimated that the major whaling nations (primarily the United States, Britain, Norway and Australia) killed more than 250,000 humpbacks alone in the 20th century.
Whales also suffered badly in World War II when they were mercilessly hunted for their oil and struck with bombs after being mistaken for submarines. The slaughter continue until 1948. It was after the war that people first began expressing concerns about the extinction of whales.
In the 1970s, whaling was still practiced on a large scale by Japan and Russia. Between them they took an estimated 35,000 whales a year. One Japanese whale company executive confessed that his company took two or three times as many whales as they reported. The Soviets did the same. The 2,710 humpbacks they listed as killing between 1948 and 1973 was only five percent of the whales they harvested.
whaling harpoon In the 1960s, sperm whales were hunted species by Norwegian whaling ships with 200 pound harpoons that jolted the entire ship when they were fired and dug deep in to the whale's back. After being hit by one these the whale usually died within a couple of minutes after which it was pumped with air to keep it afloat. [Edward J. Linehand, National Geographic , July 1971 [*]
After a whale had been harpooned small ships had to reach a port within 20 hours or the whale meat spoiled. Dark-red fin whale meat was a Norwegian delicacy but sperm whale meat was considered uneatable. These 40 to 50 ton sperm whales yielded oil that was considered to best lubricant in the world. The Russians used it in missile silos. The meat was used to feed to minks at fur farms and as a fertilizer.*
Today, Norwegians hunt minke whales in the North Atlantic Ocean with fast-killing grenade-tipped harpoons fired from a laser-sighted cannon. The harpoon imbeds itself two feet in the whale's flesh and produces a blast that knocks the whale dead with shock waves. The Japanese hunt them in the Antarctic with a mother ship and speedy hunting vessels.
Animal rights groups claim that modern methods causes a slow agonizing deaths. The Japanese contend the whales have a far better life and death than most livestock or poultry.
minke whale burger sold in
Hakodate, Japan Until the ban on whaling, products made from whales included soap, wax, varnish, glycerin, creams, margarine, cosmetics and mink food. Sperm oil was used in production of ammunition and prized as a lubricant for everything from watches to ballistic missiles. In the Soviet Union, the major buyer of sperm oil was the space program.
Whale meat is dark red and doesn't look at like fish meat. Some say it taste like beef with no hint of the sea. Whale blubber is off-white and rubbery and gelatinous in texture. Describing a piece of whale pie prepared in Dorset, England, Jonathan Meades wrote in the New Yorker, "The meat came in ready chunks, mightily dices of eraser rubber. They were set in a dense, opaque, paste that might have been petroleum jelly. Whale is a gelatinous as pig. It is also faintly granular, another property it shares with pig that has been long cooked. The meat looked smooth and bereft of fibre. The taste was only vaguely marine. It was the oxymoronish combination of the gelatinous and the glandular which rendered it so foully emetic."
When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was laid to rest after being assassinated his widow placed a whale’s tooth in his coffin. She had earlier picked it out to give it to him as a Christmas present.
Whaling, Endangered Whales and Ships
samurai helmet with
whale part ornaments Around 750,000 whales were killed between 1900 and the 1970s. According to records 45,673 whales were killed by whalers in 1973. In 1985 only 6,623 were killed. Humpback whales, right whales, blue whales and bowhead whales were particularly hard hit by whaling. Estimates of whale populations and harvested in the past is based on logbooks by whaling captains and other historical data.
A study by Stephen Palumbi of Stanford University and Joe Roman of Harvard University released in 2003, based on genetic techniques, determined the oceans were filled with ten times more whales than historical records indicate. According to historical records there were 20,000 humpbacks and 30,000 to 50,000 fin backs in the North Atlantic. Genetic data indicates they were more likely 240,000 humpbacks and 360,000 fin backs. The figures were based on analysis of DNA from blood samples of 882 humpbacks and finbacks and base in principals that the more genetic diversity found among modern whales the larger their populations were in the past. Critics have some problems with soundness of the theory behind the analysis and the conclusion that were reached.
Today, some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die each year worldwide after becoming entangled in fishing gear. Large mother and their calves have been snagged in drift gill fishing nets and drowned. A fairly large number of whales are killed by collisions with ships. Data is minimal because some of the collisions aren’t felt or reported and what happens to the whale afterwards is often not known. Although whalea can seriously damage a ship and even lead to loss of human life and injuries it usually the whales that get worst of it especially when large ships are concerned.
As sea lanes have become more crowded, whale deaths caused by collisions with ships has become more common. Some ships are outfit with equipment that picks up whale songs and noises and alerts the ships that whales are in the area.
See Right Whales and Sperm Whales.
Efforts to Help Whales Against Ships
whale watching in Japan Some efforts have been made to move and reduce the width of shipping lanes to reduce the chnaces collisions with whales.In December 2006, the London-based International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency, moved a shipping lane off Massachusetts 16 kilometers northward and narrowed it by 1.6 kilometer to reduce collisions with whales The move, scientists say, will reduce strikes with right whales by 61 percent and with large baleen whales by as much as 81 percent. In 2003, shipping lanes were moved off Canada’s Bay of Fundy for the same reason. In places where shipping lanes overlap with whale migrations routes oceanic ships have been advised to reduce their sped to 10 knots.
North Atlantic right whales, fin whales and humpback migrate not far from New York City. There smart buoys located offshore in shipping lanes record whale calls and transmit the data to a bioacoustic research team at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The buoys help alert ship captains to the presence of whales, decreasing the chances of ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.
Japanese scientific whaling Much of the early data about whale migration patterns was based on the collection and organization of details on the times and places whales were killed by whaling operations. In recent times a great deal of information has been gathered from tagged whales. A coded ten-inch steel marker is fired into the whale's back and a reward is offered for return of the marker and any information on the whale.
Studying whales is difficult. Whales can not be tranquilized. If they are there is a danger they might drown. Researchers have difficulty even with simple things like determining the sex of whale because the whales don’t make crucial parts of their bodies visible. Attaching electronic equipment on whales is difficult and the equipment of falls off or is damaged by the sea.
Today, scientists use crossbows and rifles to fire darts that burrow about an inch into a targeted and then pop out and float. They cause little damage to whales and can be collected for DNA analysis. Scientists also listen to the sounds whales make with underwater microphones called hydrophones. By listening with hydrophones in different areas scientists can use triangulation to determine the location of a whale animal by comparing how long it takes sound to reach them.
Dead whales that have washed up on beaches are sometimes given autopsies right on the beach to glean whatever information can be gleaned from them. After basic measurement of the whale are taken the body is scanned for trauma from a ship collision. Defleshing tools (4- to 5-foot poles with triangular blades) are used to peal off the skin and a few layers of blubber to get a close look at internal organs. If death has been fairly recent the organs can be examined. After two or three days they become badly decomposed. Sometimes an eyeball is removed and carried off in a shovel and tissues are cut away from the jaw to look for evidence of a ship strike. Ssamples are taken from the stomach to determine what the whale ate.
Whales taken on whaling ships are also examined. See Scientific Whaling, Japan
See Studying Blue Whales, Right Whales, Humpback Whales
Whale watching is a $1 billion business involving hundreds of businesses in 87 countries— and is getting larger all the time. About 10 million people annually go on whale-watching trips. The $1 billion figure includes money spent on lodging and restaurants in whale watching towns as well as ticket for whale watching boats.
Whale watching from boats began in 1955 in San Diego, when about 10,000 viewers came to watch the annual migration of gray whales. It began gaining momentum with the Save the Whales movement in the mid 1970s. In the mid-1980s, whale watching was a $5 million business in 10 countries. In the mid 1990s, 5.4 million people went on whale watching trips annually, bringing in $122.4 million in direct revenues and $504.3 million in total revenues.
Japanese whaling ship
Some of the people involved in whale watching are former fishermen. Whales often migrate into areas that have been overfished and fishermen have been encouraged to go into the whale-watch business to give fish stocks time to rebound and provide the fisherman with income.
Environmentalists generally regard whale watching as a positive thing because it makes people more sympathetic to the whale’s problems and creates economic incentive to keep them around. Even so some believe that tourist boat harass the whales, especially when they get very close. Sometimes whales are badly injured by the propellers of boats. Some whales seem to like the attention, watching the human gawkers as much as the human watch them.
International Whaling Commission
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was created in 1946 by 15 member nations to do something about the dwindling numbers of great whales, control production of whale oil and protect whale stocks by coordinating catches of member states. The organization initially conducted research, set kill quotas of whale species and provided a clearing house for information on whaling. Today the IWC sorts through dozens of reports on whales and attempts to evaluate the size and health of populations.
In 1966, the IWC enacted a worldwide moratorium on the hunting humpbacks, blue whales and several other whale species. The IWC declared a ten year ban on commercial whaling in the Indian Ocean in 1979. In 1982, the IWC adopted a U.N.-sponsored resolution for moratorium on all commercial whaling. It went into effect in 1986. It was initially a five-year ban but is still in effect now. The moratorium on whale hunting is regarded as one of the most successful conservation measures ever.
Blue Whale population
The IWC is essentially a diplomatic body with no enforcement power. Measures passed by the IWC need the support of 75 percent of its members to be passed. The organization’s power is limited by its limited ability to enforce its rules. In 1982, after the passage of whaling moratorium the IWC switched its orientation to whale protection and it membership increased from 13 to 25 nations. In 2008 it had 78 members, up from 70 members in 2006 and 57 members in 2004.
IWC meetings have been characterized as nasty affairs with fierce parliamentary fights and bitter accusations of “double standards” and “dirty tricks.” Outside the meeting halls the scene is often nastier. When the meeting was held in Australia in 2002, protestors called Japanese “murderers” and carried a Japanese flag dripping with fake blood. Britain, New Zealand and Australia are regarded as the most hardline anti-whaling members. Japan, Norway and Iceland are pro-whaling. Countries like Ireland, Brazil and the Netherlands are considered moderates while many of the small nation members are regarded as being in Japan’s pocket.
Whale Conservation and Pressure to End the Ban on Whaling
In the 1970s Greenpeace got its start filming factory-scale whaling and harassing the ships that carried it out. Save the Whales became a rallying cry of the environmental movement as a whole. Songs of the Humpback Whale was a major hit and whale songs were even sent into space on the Voyager space craft.
Even though international pacts ban commercial whaling, the pacts are full of loopholes. Some aboriginal people have the right to hunt whales. Japan has IWC permission to kill whales for scientific research. Iceland and Norway hunt whales, ignoring the moratorium, without suffering any penalties. In 2009, Greenland, with support from Denmark, lobbied for permission to hunt 50 humpback whales for aboriginal subsistence but many viewed the effort as a thinly disguised cover for commercial whaling.
Depiction of whaling from 1574
Pressure to end the ban on whaling is growing, A single minke whale is worth $100,000 and a large humpback may fetch as much as $300,000. Many species are doing so well that there is some discussion of dropping the ban on these species, implementing quotas instead and upholding these quotas with surprise inspections and DNA testing. Critics of the proposal claim the quotas will be difficult to enforce and endangered species might be accidently killed. A proposal to end the ban was presented at the 2004 IWC meeting but was approved.
In June 2006, pro-whaling nations staked out a stronger position in the IWC and came closer to ending the whaling ban as a group of new countries—including Cambodia, Israel, the Marshall Islands and Guatemala—joined the IWC and gave their support to the pro-whaling position. Some expect the ban on commercial whaling to be overturned sometime in the not too distant future. A 75 percent majority vote is needed to overturn it.
Image Sources: 1) NOAA 2) Wikimedia Commons; 3) protest, Greepeace Japan 4) whale watching, Okinawa Tourist Bureau; 5) scientific whaling and Japanese whaling ship, Institute of Cetacean Research
Text Sources: Mostly National Geographic articles. Also the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Natural History magazine, Discover magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011