Old-time Cure Fails the Smell Test

Rheumatism Cure Rotting Whale Bob Wiles

A cure for rheumatism; Bob Wiles in the carcass of a whale, Twofold Bay [1].  Source: Wellings, C. E. (Charles Eden). National Library of Australia, nla.obj-148641890

Perhaps you enjoy reading through magazines from a century or more ago to look at the advertisements, especially those promising the newest and best cures for a variety of maladies.

For example, listed in Ladies Home Journal from October 1896: “Imperial Granum. Universally acknowledged as the standard and best prepared food for nursing mothers, infants and children, invalids and convalescents, for dyspeptic, delicate, infirm and aged persons.” Just a few years later, advertised in Conkey’s Home Journal, from November 1902: “Jo-He, the Great Magnetic Oil from Texas. Seventeen years of cures in 8-30 days. Rheumatism, spinal affections, paralysis, erysipelas, old sores, cancer yield to it readily. 50¢ for a trial can.”

In a different part of the world, but in the same time frame, an unusual cure for rheumatoid arthritis had caught on. It involved immersing oneself in the rotting carcass of a whale for several hours.

A story from the Australian Town and Country Journal, dated November 24, 1894, tells of a well-known businessman from the town of Eden, on the shores of Twofold Bay, whose rheumatoid arthritis was so bad that he needed crutches to move about. He became aware, how is not certain, of a potential cure for his painful disease. He approached a local whale processor who ultimately made a freshly killed southern right whale available for this businessman to use as a warm, slippery, receptacle for his ailing body. The “ammoniacal fumes” limited this gentleman to one hour of treatment before he was lifted out. According to the story, he was seen soon after walking without the aid of crutches.

Smithsonian Magazine, in 2014, referred to a New York Times article from 1896 that told a similar tale. “The ‘whale cure’ was popularized after ‘a gentleman of convivial habits but grievously afflicted with rheumatism’ noticed a whale carcass on the beach. A jokester, he decided to jump right in. (Some later said he was drunk.) His friends were horrified but ‘the heat and the smell were too great’ for them to rescue their achy, daredevil buddy, so they just waited around for him to come out.” When he finally dragged himself out of the whale, “the rheumatism from which he had been suffering for years had entirely disappeared.”

Rheumatism Cure Rotting Whale

A cure for rheumatism; Bob Wiles in the carcass of a whale, with unidentified man, Twofold Bay [2].  Source: Wellings, C. E. (Charles Eden). National Library of Australia, nla.obj-148642047

The telling of this unusual cure was revived in 2014 when the Australian National Maritime Museum (ANMM) included the topic in an exhibit on whales. Photos from the National Library of Australia, one of which is included here, show a man in the accepted and expected position for making use of this treatment. The ANMM Digital Curators, Nicole Cama and Penny Edwell, wrote an informative and amusing summary of the proposed cure that provided a bit of notoriety to their region before World War I. Their final paragraph is brilliant,

“As whaling declined in Eden so too did the practice of the whale cure, which ceased to be practiced by about the First World War. However, perhaps people stopped undertaking the whale cure for a very good, and rather malodorous reason:

‘The after-effects are not so pleasant; the patient for a week or so gives off a horrible odour, and is abhorrent to man and beast, and a fit subject for prosecution under the ‘Diseased Animals and Meat Act’.”

How Do Whales Avoid Cancer?

Whales and their kin are fascinating animals for many reasons. Some species reach lengths greater than 50 feet (15.2m); some are acrobatic and entertaining; many dive deeper than 5,000 feet (1.52km) and hold their breath for longer than an hour. Some travel in pods of more than 1,000 individuals; some live very long lives. Of course, there was a time when the attraction was directly linked to economics and the many products derived from processing these animals.

Those days of harvesting entire animals are mostly past us, with some notable exceptions. Those exceptions can be a topic for a different discussion. However, some recent harvesting of DNA samples has led to groundbreaking research that could be of benefit to people. It should be noted that the collection of DNA samples is a decades long practice and is of no harm to the individual animals. In fact, it is DNA samples, and thousands of photographs, that provide the basis for the North Atlantic Right Whale Database, maintained by the New England Aquarium.

NARW Database

A team of researchers from Northern Arizona University, the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the Center for Coastal Studies in Massachusetts, and several other cooperating institutions have published a paper that appeared in the May 9, 2019 issue of Molecular Biology and Evolution. This study has the succinct, engaging title: “Return to the sea, get huge, beat cancer:  an analysis of cetacean genomes including an assembly for the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae).”

Biopsy Dart Monica_A_Zani

Tip of biopsy dart, showing skin sample protruding from tip of dart. The tip can be unscrewed and the sample removed. The yellow portion stops the dart from getting too far into the whale and also floats so the arrow can be retrieved. Photo by Monica Zani, New England Aquarium.

Inflatable Whale 4

The Whaling Museum’s inflatable ‘whale tunnel’, based on Salt, the first humpback to be named based on the pattern of the underside of the flukes.

The crux of the research is that despite the fact that these animals can attain enormous sizes and thus have far more cells than humans and other animals that suffer from cancer, they have evolved genomic mechanisms to avoid cancer. As is mentioned in news stories, such as “Why Doesn’t Cancer Affect Whales?” and “How Whales Defy the Cancer Odds: Good Genes”, animals of larger size and weight tend to be more prone to cancer. So why wouldn’t whales – the largest species on earth fit that same mold?  The research explains that they have evolved to avoid cancer through beneficial DNA mutations.

The Museum has a slight, yet fun connection to this story. The humpback whale whose DNA was used in the research is a 43-ft (13.1m) female nicknamed, Salt. She was named for the appearance of the pattern on the underside of her flukes. In fact, she was the first whale for which this was done. She is at least 43 years old, has given birth to 13 calves and is a grandmother 14 times. She is a regular visitor to nearby coastal waters, often entertaining whale watch customers. She is the inspiration for the inflatable whale that the New Bedford Whaling Museum purchased in 2016. Ours is the fourth such inflatable whale tunnel created in her likeness.

This story is a reminder of the benefits, however humanly selfish, of studying the lessons that nature sends our way. Whether it’s mimicking burdock to create Velcro or copying the denticles of shark skin to make swimsuits or to cover boat bottoms, natural features that have evolved over thousands or millions of years have already gone through the engineering process. These work to our benefit. Fortunately, most wildlife management has transitioned to a systems approach rather than species by species. This benefits us as well.

Just as importantly, this research reminds us of the connection between us and the 88 species of cetaceans that inhabit our global ocean, and a handful of the planet’s rivers.  We have depended on them for commerce, entertainment, artistic pursuits and inspiration. They are depending on us to protect their aquatic habitats and the watersheds that drain to them. We strive to do our part here at the Whaling Museum in our exhibits and our programming. We thank those of you who do your part by supporting facilities like ours, whale watch operators, and the researchers who study these animals.

Japan to Resume Commercial Whaling

The big news of the day in the topic of whales and whaling is the news that Japan has stated its intention to resume commercial whaling in July 2019. This will coincide with them stepping down as a member nation of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). None of the current members of the IWC do whaling on a commercial basis. So, Japan will join Iceland and Norway as commercial whaling nations in defiance of the voluntary moratorium that was voted on in 1983 and commenced with the 1986 whaling season.

Japan has been conducting Special Permit (Scientific) whaling, via Article VIII of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling, since 1987. They are the only country to do so since 2008. Countries that wish to do this type of whaling apply to their own governments, not the IWC, for their scientific permits. Because the Japanese government subsidizes this whaling, these permits were always going to be approved. One of the requirements of this article in the ICRW, is that the animal cannot simply be discarded. So, the meat of the animal is then available for distribution and consumption.

At no point did Japan publish any peer-reviewed scientific papers as a result of the data they collected. So, in reality, this change of status from scientific to commercial removes any pretense as to the purpose of their whale hunting. What will be different is that they will now remain in their own territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone, rather than hunt in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, where commercial whaling is banned.

Japan, Iceland and Norway all maintain that sustainable whaling is possible for select species. Members of the IWC disagree. They signed a non-binding resolution at the 2018 annual symposium, in Brazil, stating that whaling was no longer economically viable or necessary for scientific research.

Commercial whaling ended in the United States in 1972 when the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed. Commercial whaling in New Bedford had ended in 1925 when the two-masted schooner, John R. Manta, returned to port after a three-and-a-half-month voyage to the Hatteras Grounds. The year before, in a much better known story, the Wanderer, a three-masted bark, broke up in a storm on Sow and Pigs Reef off of Cuttyhunk Island, and thus she and her crew did not go a-whaling.

Because this story is such big news, you have no shortage of media outlets you can access to get more details. I encourage you to view more than one. Some stories have some footage that come with a warning before you watch it.

A Species on the Brink

The Society for Marine Mammalogy states that there are 89 species of cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise). The smallest of these, a species of porpoise known as the vaquita (Phocoena sinus), is in the greatest danger of going extinct. Many of us on the East Coast are much more familiar with the plight of the endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). We certainly give the right whale a fair amount of deserved attention within the Whaling Museum. But, because the vaquita is a Pacific Ocean animal, with a very limited range, it does not get much attention along the Atlantic seaboard.

Vaquita. Image courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

However, the vaquita’s situation is so dire, that it is quite likely that in the next two years, it will get nationally recognized when it is declared extinct. As of mid-May, according to the Director of the international watchdog group, Elephant Action League, the population estimate for the vaquita was 12 individuals (the EAL uses sonic buoys to track echolocation among individual animals). Other reports put the number at 30 animals. The population in 2008 was estimated to be 340. According to Mexico News Daily, on June 29, four vaquita have been found dead so far in 2018.

An adult vaquita (the name means ‘little cow’ in Spanish) is five feet (1.5m) in length and weighs 120 pounds (54kg), with a bit of variation between males and females. They have an estimated life span of 20-25 years. They have dark rings around their eyes and dark markings around their mouths that look similar to lipstick.

The vaquita was discovered and officially recognized as a distinct species in 1958. As with most endangered animals, its tenuous situation is a function of a specialization or limitation in its habits and habitat, and its proximity to humans. In this case, the vaquita has the most limited range of any cetacean. It lives only in the upper Gulf of California, an area approximately the same size as the state of Rhode Island.

Range and refuge map. Image courtesy of NOAA

Unfortunately, a similarly sized fish, the totoaba (Totoaba macdonaldi) also lives in the Gulf of California. This fish is the target of fishermen who use gillnets to catch the fish, remove their swim bladders, dry them, and then sell the bladders to buyers and smugglers in China and Hong Kong who are willing to pay $4000 per pound.  There are many in these countries who think, mistakenly, that the swim bladders have medicinal properties. The dried bladders are a main ingredient in a soup known as “fish maw”. The totoaba is listed by NOAA as an endangered species.

Historical totoaba photo – Proyecto Vaquita; provided by Aquarium of the Pacific.

The vaquita get entangled in gillnets targeting totoaba and drown. This fishery was closed down in 1975, but illegal totoaba fishing continues to catch and kill vaquita. Despite the fact that the Mexican government created a vaquita biosphere reserve in 1993, and placed a ban on all gillnets in 2015 in the vaquita’s habitat, the population continues to decline. Many of the area residents rely on fishing for income, the attraction of a big payday from totoaba swim bladders is a strong one, and enforcement is spotty.

Several citizen initiatives, including Pied for a Porpoise (yours truly was one of those who took a pie in the face), fundraisers and curriculum have been created to spread the word among visitors to aquaria and zoos, and to the general public, especially on the U.S. and Mexican West Coast. But, until the enforcement of all fishing bans is consistent, effective and unrelenting, this species, like the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) in 2006, will go extinct in our lifetime.

One of those citizen initiatives is taking place this weekend, International Save the Vaquita Day.

Where to learn more:



http://pronature-noreste.org  (Spanish)


I extend my thanks to David Bader, Director of Education at the Aquarium of the Pacific (AOP), for providing access to a Dropbox full of information: the AOP for their energy and persistence in educating the public about the vaquita, and the Texas State Aquarium for starting #pied4aporpoise.

The New Bedford Armory, Part II


If you read my essay titled A Castle for New Bedford: The Building of the New Bedford Armory, 1898-1904, you may be interested to know of recent developments regarding this important city landmark. Once again the fate of the Armory is receiving renewed public attention, thanks to a Standard-Times article by Steve Urbon titled Possible sale of armory sounds alarm bells in New Bedford regarding the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s renewed effort to sell the Armory as a surplus state building under the management of the Division of Capital Asset Management & Maintenance (DCAMM). Urbon then did a follow-up article on the Armory’s current condition titled Tour reveals slow destruction of New Bedford Armory. The news was not good.

In 2003, nearly 100 years after its dedication, the Massachusetts National Guard announced to the City of New Bedford that it would be vacating the Armory. At that time, I had the opportunity to tour the Armory with city officials. I took several photos of the interior, in part, to document historic artifacts related to New Bedford’s military history. Posted below, they are in startling contrast to the 2017 photos published with Steve Urbon’s article (above), which documents the current state of deterioration from fire, vandalism and the elements.

In 2014, Jonathan Carvalho’s article highlighted the challenge of restoration and reuse of great old city buildings, including the Armory. The good news is that the Armory can be refurbished if not completely restored to its 1904 grandeur. The bad news: due mostly to human-inflicted damage (vandalism and arson), it will cost exponentially more to do so than it would have when I took these pictures in 2003. Regardless of the cost, the public, any/all interested parties, and especially the Armory neighborhood should make their voices heard on what will be the next chapter in the Armory’s history.

The Commander's Office's feature massive hearths one would expect to see in a Norman-style castle. In 2003, fireplace equipment and lighting sconces remained in place.

The Commander’s Offices feature massive hearths one would expect to see in a Norman-style castle. In 2003, fireplace equipment and lighting sconces remained in place. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Armory marble gilded dedication Tablet was in the foyer in 2003. Its current whereabouts is not known by the writer. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Armory marble gilded Dedication Tablet was in the foyer in 2003. Its current whereabouts is not known by the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The twin staircases on either side of the main corridor leading from the foyer were then in good condition. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The twin staircases on either side of the main corridor leading from the foyer were then in good condition. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

A canvas painted map of the Regiment's actions in World War II is now in the collection of the New Bedford Military Museum, operated by the Fort Rodman/Fort Taber Historical Association. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

A canvas painted map of the Regiment’s actions in World War II is now in the collection of the New Bedford Military Museum, operated by the Fort Rodman/Fort Taber Historical Association. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of World War II Map now in the collection of the New Bedford Military Museum, operated by the Fort Rodman/Fort Taber Historical Association. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of World War II Map (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Plaque of Battery E, current whereabouts unknown to the author .(photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Plaque of Battery E; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author .(photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Captains of Battery E; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Captains of Battery E; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Captains of Battery B; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Captains of Battery E; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Bell Rousseau; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

1801 Rousseau Bell and dedication plaque; current whereabouts of this object unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of 1801 Bell Rousseau dedication plaque (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of 1801 Rousseau Bell dedication plaque. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Display case of marksmanship trophies in the 2nd floor officers' lounge. Current whereabouts of these objects unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Display case of marksmanship trophies in the 2nd floor officers’ lounge. Current whereabouts of these objects unknown to the author. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Jail cells in the basement of the Armory. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Jail cells in the basement of the Armory. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Rifle range in the basement of the Armory. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Rifle range in the basement of the Armory. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Boiler Room in the basement of the Armory. A massive Smith Boiler drove the steam heating system for the Armory plant. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Boiler Room in the basement of the Armory. A massive gas-fired Smith Boiler drove the steam heating system for the Armory plant. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of the Boiler Room circulators. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

Detail of the Boiler Room circulators. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Kitchen/Mess in the Armory Basement. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Kitchen/Mess in the Armory Basement. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

In 2003, the men's and women's restrooms had been fully renovated by the Guard. Unfortunately, vandals have since destroyed the fixtures. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

In 2003, the men’s and women’s restrooms had been fully renovated by the Guard. Unfortunately, vandals destroyed the fixtures before the building was secured after the 2009 arson. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Drill Hall in 2003. The good news is that it remains intact. It also remains the City's single largest uninterrupted floor space. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

The Drill Hall in 2003. The good news is that it remains intact. It also continues to be the City’s single largest uninterrupted floor space at nearly 14,000 sq. ft. (photo: Arthur Motta, 2003)

New Bedford Gas Explosions – January 18, 1977, forty years ago today

gas_1977_big_flames_2 The tranquility of the predawn hours of that frigid January morning in 1977 were abruptly shattered like the thousands of window panes throughout the downtown. Three massive explosions disintegrated historic buildings fronting on Union Street between Water and Johnny Cake Hill. At the epicenter of the damage, on Johnny Cake Hill, the ground shook so violently that it caused cracks in the brick walls of the Whaling Museum’s Cook Memorial Theater, constructed six years earlier.

gasexplosion1977bournebldgsouthThe explosions were later determined to be caused by prolonged arctic temperatures that had penetrated deep enough below ground to cause a 90-lb. gas main to split at a welded seam and fill the Union street storefronts with gas. At about quarter to five in the morning, O’Malley’s Tavern located at 67 Union blew up in a massive fireball, obliterating the building instantaneously in a fifty-foot wall of flame. From its basement the structure had slowly filled with gas; detonation came from the spark of a thermostat clicking on for heat. Next door, the Macomber-Sylvia Building, newly restored by WHALE also went up in the conflagration and spread to the roof the Sundial Building. On the other side of the hill, the 1872 Eggers Building had its entire façade blown off with the rest of the structure mostly burned. Nearly sixty buildings in the Central Business District sustained some damage due to the blasts (Standard-Times, 3/6/77). Fire crews could not put out the fire until the gas mains were turned off, otherwise there was risk of more explosions as gas continued to fill adjacent gasexplosion1977buildings, including the Whaling Museum.

The initial blast was so powerful that it shattered most of the Museum’s windows, fracturing dozens of sashes and separating window jambs from the brick walls. Shards of glass flew through the Bourne Building, embedding themselves like missiles into the canvas sails of the famous half-scale model of the whaleship Lagoda. As luck would have it, this early window damage may have helped avert total disaster, as the now open-air whaling museum vented any gas that had found its way in.

gas_1977_bethel_south_2Miraculously, New Bedford’s two most important historic landmarks, the Whaling Museum and the Seamen’s Bethel – the veritable heart and soul of the city’s celebrated maritime past – stood together atop their hill and remained relatively unscathed as fire raged round about them.

gas_1977_nbwm_west_Today, almost no trace remains of the catastrophe, due to the unremitting efforts of a generation of caring individuals, groups and organizations, who dedicated themselves to a thousand untold works of historic preservation, new construction, beatification and enhancements, side by side and with the support ofgas_1977_crowells_2 municipal, state and federal leaders.

As the sun rose that frigid morning, no one who surveyed the gut-wrenching scene of utter destruction could have imagined that these smoldering ruins would be transformed into a national park in just two decades’ time.

New Bedford’s response to the 1977 Gas Explosions is an exemplar of its fortitude and resilience.  No historic preservation project today comes close to matching the seeming impossibility of the 1977 challenge. Restoration and adaptive reuse for city landmarks such as the Armory, Fort Taber, the Orpheum Theater, First Baptist Church and others must be assessed by the 1977 litmus test.

Sundial Bldg., 1977

Sundial Bldg., 1977

The question is not whether we can do it, but whether we have the will to do it.  As Rochefoucauld famously said, “We have more ability than will power, and it is often an excuse to ourselves that we imagine that things are impossible.”

Why black whales are called “right whales”

By Michael P. Dyer, Senior Maritime Historian, New Bedford Whaling Museum

By the early 20th century, black whales, Eubalaena spp, had come to be uniformly called “right whales” due to centuries of confusion between the English, American and French languages, the laziness of whalers, the assumptions of historians, and a severe shortage of animals in the North Atlantic useful for comparative anatomical study at the height of the age of taxonomic nomenclature in the mid-nineteenth-century. It came about in this way.

Whaleman Daniel C. Whitfield of Newark, New Jersey drew this picture of a black whale in his journal kept onboard the bark Dr. Franklin of Westport, Mass., 1856-1859. KWM #1033

Whaleman Daniel C. Whitfield of Newark, New Jersey drew this picture of a black whale in his journal kept onboard the bark Dr. Franklin of Westport, Mass., 1856-1859. KWM #1033

Long plates of baleen and no dorsal fin are the principal defining anatomical characteristic of the sub-order of Cetaceans, the Mysticeti, those whales commonly described as “right whales.” From the traditional American viewpoint, right whales are not a species but a group. American whalers’ terming animals right whales, were simply referring to “right whaling,” the process of hunting an animal with quality, marketable baleen and often a large quantity of oil in their thick blubber. American whalers differentiated between right whales and bowheads, but called the process of hunting either “right whaling,” and took shortcuts in their logbook and journal entries terming any animal not a bowhead a right whale. American whalers sometimes called right whales “black whales” in these entries. The British completely distinguished between the two as early as the 1790s when they began their whale fishery on the coast of Australia.
To the British and the French the “right whale” was generally the animal that we know today as the bowhead. For much of the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth- centuries this animal was commonly called the Greenland whale, the Mysticete, the Arctic whale, Balaena mysticetus; and also the term Baleine franche.

"La Baleine Franche," engraving of a bowhead whale printed by Frault, 37 Rue Saint Andre des Arts, after Robert Benard from L'Abbe Bonnaterre, Tableau Encyclopedique et Methodique de Trois Regnes de la Nature (Paris, 1795). NBWM #2001.100.6340

“La Baleine Franche,” engraving of a bowhead whale printed by Frault, 37 Rue Saint Andre des Arts, after Robert Benard from L’Abbe Bonnaterre, Tableau Encyclopedique et Methodique de Trois Regnes de la Nature (Paris, 1795). NBWM #2001.100.6340

This latter term, French in its origin, meant the true whale or even “baleine vertitable,” the real whale, and was applied equally to both species in natural history illustrations of the period. This is the whale appearing in book illustrations and natural histories as far back as the 1670s. Eubalaena spp. does not begin to regularly appear in natural history illustrations as a distinct species until 1874 when Charles Melville Scammon included a chapter on the “The Right Whale of the Pacific Northwest Coast,” in The Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Coast of North America (San Francisco, 1874).
When 19th century taxonomists began described these animals the array of names and descriptive terminology was bewildering. Documentation was weak, reliable description was almost exclusively confined to whalers, and the various species of right whales were not distinctly separated as species until the 1860s. When whalers wanted to be specific about which right whale they were hunting, then the terminology and naming got even more complex. Some names stuck and some fell away. Greenland whales, Balaena mysticetus, the European preferred whale of commerce for centuries, were a “right whale” and were commonly called Greenland right whales or Arctic right whales, or even just “the whale.” French naturalists including P.J. van Beneden recognized that Americans later came to call them bowheads, a name that stuck probably because it described a distinct characteristic of the animal, much like the hump of a humpback or the contents of the nose of a spermaceti whale.
Eubalaena glacialis, the “black whale of the Americans” was another right whale, but not preferred for European commerce at any time since the 15th century Basques. This was a little-known animal uncommonly encountered by whalers until the era of colonial American settlement put mariners directly into their migratory habitat around Cape Cod and New England. This animal was hunted by Americans for a relatively short time, less than one hundred years, but certainly not to the exclusion of other whales, as the commonly held definition of the name implies. If their behavior today is any guide, these animals rarely stranded or drifted ashore unless sick or injured. These were often called “black whales” by the British and “seven-foot bone” whales by Americans. To refer to these animals as black whales today is to employ a distinct descriptive characteristic with plenty of historical precedent that enables them to be identified and thought of as a species, separate from the group.
A “right whale” is any whale species with long slabs of marketable baleen. Known historically to American commerce as “whalebone” and to the English of the seventeenth and eighteenth- centuries as “fins,” baleen is a keratin-based adaptation consisting of long, overlapping plates growing from the roof of the whales’ mouths, finely fringed along the inside edge, enabling the animals to feed by filtering organisms from sea water. Baleen plates vary in size from species to species growing to between six and thirteen feet long in mature animals. When feeding these whales sometimes cruise steadily along the surface of the sea and along the edges of ice fields grazing on immense blooms of plankton known historically as “brit” or “whale feed.” After filling their mouths with water and plankton they use their immense lips and tongues to dispel the water and then lick the food off the inside edges of the baleen. This behavior made the animals conspicuous to mariners, and their migratory patterns and general habitats were often close to shore where they were both observed and hunted. The family Balaeinidae, these oft-named “right whales,” includes four species, the bowhead, the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) and the North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica). Each possesses these long plates of baleen although the longest and most valuable baleen plates to commerce came from the bowhead whale.
Modern authors who describe the North Atlantic right whale, Eubalaena glacialis, in nature guide books, web sites, history books and even scientific papers commonly assert that because right whales floated when dead, lived close to shore, were slow and easily approached and provided large quantities of oil, meat and baleen that whalers called them “right whales” as they were the “right whale to catch.” This definition has persisted, in the U.S.A. particularly, throughout most of the 20th century.
Sir William Henry Flower (1831-1899), director of the Natural History Department of the British Museum, first used the phrase “the right whale to catch” in 1898. The full quotation is:
… long distinguished by practical whalers as right whales, as they are, compared to all others, the right whales to catch being of far greater value.

Significantly, Flower did not at the time of his writing acknowledge E. glacialis as a distinct species. The right whales to which he is referring are Balaena mysticetus, the bowhead and Eubalaena australis, the Southern right whale:
Of the right whales there are two perfectly distinct forms,
though whether each of these represents a single species, or
can be subdivided into several, is still a matter of uncertainty,
and for our present purpose of little importance, as if minute
investigation can prove that they are separable, they are most
closely allied and perfectly similar to all ordinary observation.
The two forms, which I shall speak of as species or kinds, are
the Greenland or rather Arctic right whale (Balaena mysticetus)
and the southern right whale (Balaena australis).

As Flower’s language indicates, the English usage of “right whale” referring to the bowhead is incontrovertible. Although most English sources simply refer to the bowhead as “the whale,” the “Greenland whale” or the “common whale,” Flower’s differentiating the “Arctic right whale” underscores his perception that whalebone whales as a group were considered “right whales.”
Attempting to explain and describe the reasons behind why the whale is called the “right whale” without the systematic parsing of old texts has contributed to assumptions made about the commercial exploitation of one species of animal (Eubalaena glacialis) in particular to the exclusion of others. Unwittingly, E. glacialis (as well as the southern and North Pacific species) become entwined with a separate species (Balaena mysticetus) blurring the ability of historians, scientists, ocean resource managers and the public to understand the full extent of potential issues surrounding their management.
The bowhead whale itself has a long history of exploitation but also of study by English whalers and naturalists. Most famous of these was whaling master and author William Scoresby, Jr. (1789-1857), who wrote a precise description of the bowhead whale in his two volume work An Account of the Arctic Regions with a History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery (Edinburgh, 1820), after his experiences hunting them in the waters of the Greenland Sea between eastern Greenland and Spitzbergen Island in the early nineteenth century:
“Balaena mysticetus: – The Common Whale, or Greenland Whale. This valuable and interesting animal, generally called The Whale by way of eminence, is the object of our most important commerce to the Polar Seas – is productive of more oil than any other of the Cetacea, and, being less active, slower in its motion, and more timid than any other of the kind… is more easily captured.”

Scoresby’s quote was repeated often – indeed, for decades his observations on the fauna of the Arctic regions were the last word in Arctic reference. Books like the popular and influential On the Ordinary Cetacea or Whales by Robert Hamilton, published as part of Sir William Jardine’s Naturalist’s Library (Edinburgh, 1837), and John Godman’s American Natural History (Philadelphia, 1828), among others relied upon Scoresby often reprinting whole passages of his writing.
His work was truly respected by his peers and remains so today. In addition to commanding several commercial whaling voyages from Hull, U.K. he studied briefly under naturalist Robert Jameson at Edinburgh University, corresponded with the likes of Sir Joseph Banks and John Hunter, and contributed information to other Arctic marine mammal naturalists including Everard Home, based largely on his observations compiled on his whaling voyages. Scoresby uses other names for the bowhead whale including the “Common Black Whale” and the “Great Northern Whale.” Even Scoresby, however, struggles with the separate identities of the bowhead and the North Atlantic right whale:
The Balaena mysticetus and the Balaena nordkaper, for instance, are considered by Linné as varieties only of the same animal. La Cepède makes them two species. No, La Cepède’s figure of Balaeine franche (mysticetus), has not its counterpart in nature; but his Balaeine nordcaper is a fair representation of the mysticetus.

In this particular incidence La Cepède was right and Scoresby was wrong. The Nordcaper and the bowhead are two separate species. The Nordcaper, or North Cape whale was for years synonymous with today’s Eubalaena glacialis. It was so-named as being encountered off the North Cape of Norway although Scoresby claims never to have seen one. By the time of Scoresby’s writing in the 1820s E. glacialis was very seldom seen and the likelihood of his even being familiar with it was small.
Numerous sources, however, including those devoted entirely to the subject such as William Dewhurst’s Natural History of the Order Cetacea (London, 1834), use the term “Greenland right whale” to describe the bowhead, although other natural histories like Thomas Bell’s A History of British Quadrupeds (London 1837) refer to Balaena mysticetus as the “true whale,” the “common whale” and the “Greenland whale.” Scoresby’s influential description comes very close to Flower’s common “right whale to catch” scenario, and it seems to provide convenient answers to the evidently perplexing question of “why is it called the right whale?” Between the two of them, Scoresby and Flower, the originations of the idea “the right whale to catch” seem definitive. Understanding then, how and why the phrase came about, is simply the culmination of hundreds of years of confusion over the precise identification of E. glacialis as a species in comparison to a well-known and well-described commercially significant animal.
In the literature of the late 19th century and early 20th centuries scientists and natural historians strove to document whale species taxonomically and were analyzing all of the various derivations of the names of these animals. The American zoologist Joseph Bassett Holder (1824-1888) compiled one particularly excellent synopsis where he makes the distinction between “right whales” generally as a group (“this Right Whale”) and the black whale specifically, as Eubalaena glacialis:
This, the Black Whale so called of the temperate Atlantic, was lately introduced to science as a re-discovery. After a lengthy period of well nigh total extinction, the species is now manifestly increasing in numbers As is now well known after a long continued confusion of specific characters and consequent misunderstanding, this Right Whale is the one which our forefathers found abundant along the Atlantic coast, from Newfoundland to Florida. It is the one first hunted by the Cape Cod and Nantucket whalers and is not the one now and latterly captured in the Arctic seas. At the commencement of the American Revolution the Black Whale had been so persistently pursued that there remained in our waters seemingly no more to capture. Indeed the species was near extinction. It was now that the New England and New Jersey whalers pushed northward and discovered the great Arctic Right Whale As they found a prey affording them more oil and larger baleen, they were content; leaving others to settle the question of identity. The science of cetology was not then greatly advanced; it remained therefore for naturalists of a later period to fairly establish the characteristics and relative position of each species.

Quite in opposition to Holder’s synopsis (and almost uniquely in this study), U.S. Fish Commission agent Alonzo Howard Clark (1850-1918) completely distinguished right whales from bowhead whales in his 1887 analysis of the American whaling industry:
The right whale (Eubalaena) is found in various parts of the world… This whale, of which there are several species in the different oceans, must not be confounded with the bow-head, inhabiting much colder waters, the bow-head being an ice whale and the right a temperate whale…

Clark’s report is among the most frequently accessed documents relative to American whaling history, having been widely disseminated as a government document and subsequently reprinted. In this instance, Clark mistakenly segregates the species involved in “right whaling” adopting the more generic terminology common to the fishery but less useful for specific identification.
Biologists Randall R. Reeves and Robert D. Kenney finally broke with the commonality of describing the “right whale to catch” in 2003 writing in a major marine mammal encyclopedia: “many early writers considered “right” to connote “true” or “proper.” Reeves and Kenney’s new definition helps to refine not only the question of naming but also elevates the place of the Mysticetes historically as these were long considered the whales of commerce and people paid attention to them. One may well ask what characteristics a “true” or “proper” whale may possess, which in this case may be answered in a word, baleen. True whales or right whales were those animals with long slabs of marketable baleen.
Yet even while this characteristic was accepted as a commercial criterion for classing the animals, their actual naming and identity has long remained a challenge to virtually everyone who has attempted it. As late as 1932, the whaling historian James Travis Jenkins opened “Chapter 2 – The Nordcaper,” of his book Whales & Modern Whaling with a nomenclature-rich synopsis: “The Nordcaper, Sarda, or Atlantic Right Whale (Balaena australis) was the first to be the subject of a regular fishery, that of the Basques.” Jenkins’ chapter, which starts off confusing Eubalaena glacialis with Balaena australis, nonetheless serves as a solid synopsis of the accepted perceptions of the animal and its history at the mid- twentieth century. In it he covers Basque whaling for bowhead whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Norwegian whaling records for E. glacialis around Iceland in the late nineteenth- century, and Scottish whaling records from the early twentieth- century, all good information. His chapter is particularly useful as a yardstick for gauging the degree of understanding that fisheries managers had in the mid-twentieth century.
At the time of Flower’s writing in 1898, however, the populations of E. glacialis had been stultified over tens of thousands of years through habitat degradation brought about by ice-age glacial recurrences, predation by orcas, competition from bowhead whales for preferred habitat and, ultimately, over- hunting of populations already stressed by natural habitat challenges. Flower’s exclusive descriptions of the bowhead whale and the southern right whale reflected the serious nature of how small the North Atlantic right whale populations had actually become at the turn of the twentieth- century. Fifty years earlier the New Bedford, Massachusetts, whaling master Daniel McKenzie confirms this scarcity categorically in a letter to the Director of the United States Naval Observatory and Hydrographic Office Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury in 1849, indicating that “throughout my whaling history I never did – nor never expected to find right whales on the outward passage till I reached Latitude 30° South.”
So what really happened to E. glacialis? Is it possible that between circa 1640 and the mid-18th century American colonists killed so many animals that they were erased from the North Atlantic entirely, or were so reduced in their numbers that they were seldom even seen? American biologists William A. Watkins and William E. Schevill certainly believed so, writing in 1982: “Right whales were found in large numbers in the Cape Cod area until about 1730 (Allen 1916), but this stock was systematically reduced by shore whaling that took all that could be caught, including cows and calves.”

The modern wholesale and exclusive adoption of “right whale” as the common name for Eubalaena glacialis underscores the implication that our oft-repeated definition that the name fosters. Because these were the “right whale to catch,” catch them they did and thus the population was radically reduced. As we have seen, however, this assumption shortcuts the facts of many historical sources and takes a giant leap across an entire ocean and the entire species of Balaena mysticetus to which the term was originally applied. Further, it implies an overt concentration by hunters on one species when several were both available and exploited. It likewise demands a simple association for why there seems not to be a robust population of Eubalaena glacialis in the world today – American colonists killed them all. Curiously, and in parallel to the American experience, British colonists in New South Wales, Australia did not call the similar animal that they encountered there and hunted extensively the “right whale.” They called it the “black whale” and also exploited them thoroughly.
One significant difference between the black whale of the North Atlantic and that of the south (Eubalaena australis) is that the southern stock had a much larger population (some estimates place it as high as 90,000 animals) that managed to survive heavy, sustained, sophisticated hunting pressure for well over one hundred years. E. australis was hunted from the coasts of Brazil and Argentina to the coasts of Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the entire Southern Ocean by Americans, French, Australians, British and others. These were a targeted species by whaling agents intent on keeping quantities of oil and bone on their wharves and ready for the market. Whaling badly damaged this population as well as E. glacialis but the pressure was enormous in comparison.
American colonists did undoubtedly kill a lot of E. glacialis. One commonly cited source indicates that in January of 1700 “the boates round Cape Cod Bay killed twenty-nine whales in one day.” Even such concentrated efforts on a stock of animals locally concentrated in the bay, however, could only have damaged the population permanently if they were limited in their population numbers to start with, but, as Curator of Mammals in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, Glover M. Allen, observed in 1916: “The accounts of this important industry that have come down to us are barely sufficient to reconstruct an outline of it.” The historical documentation upon which Allen’s observation was made has hardly changed since his writing in 1916.

The same sources that Glover Allen, Frederick True and Joel Asaph Allen reference in their works have only been augmented sparsely by primary whalemen’s accounts, and these only serve to underscore the high quality of the research in the first place. Yet despite accounts “barely sufficient” to outline the early history of colonial whaling assumptions have persisted that these were the “right whales to catch.”
The main points of this history to which Glover Allen refers, are that American colonists began processing “drift” whales that washed ashore dead or stranded themselves on the beaches of Long Island and Cape Cod in the mid-seventeenthth century shortly after colonial settlement. Today such “drift whales” occasionally turn up in the traditional regions, like Cape Cod, Cape Cod Bay, Nantucket and Long Island. These consist mostly of fin whales, humpbacks, sperm whales, pilot whales and dolphins. The only right whales that wash ashore dead are those that have succumbed to ship strikes (hit or run over by a large vessel) or those that have become entangled in fishing gear and died. As few right whales drift ashore today, and other whales species do, this begs the question of what type of whales drifted ashore in the colonial era? Does the negligible number of drift right whales today simply reflect the fact that there are not that many of them and that the population is mostly healthy, or, does it suggest that there were once many more right whales and they were often unhealthy or, that few right whales ever washed ashore or stranded in comparison to other species?
The species of drift whale are not always identified in the historical sources being commonly called simply “whales,” or “a whale.” By the end of the seventeenth- century actual shore whaling was common from the coasts of New Jersey to Cape Cod Bay. In this fishery whales were spotted from lookouts posted along the beaches, and boats were launched to hunt the animals. Again, however, the problem plaguing so many definitive conclusions about these animals and their pre-exploited population levels is that the targeted species are not always positively identified, although records of baleen being harvested suggest that these were E. glacialis.
Off-shore voyages commenced by the early eighteenth- century and these voyages included sperm whaling. By the mid-eighteenth- century fleets of off-shore whaling vessels from a host of small ports were hunting in the Atlantic between the Azores and the Davis Straits as well as into the Caribbean. Joel Asaph Allen, Curator of Birds and Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History, summed up this history writing in 1883 that E. glacialis “was lost sight of [by the British] as a commercial animal, except on this side of the Atlantic… it was practically unknown to science , till the researches of Eschricht and Reinhadt, published in 1861, led to its rediscovery.” He noted that until 1861 the species had been generally confounded with B. mysticetus.”

“Copia al Natural del Ballenato...” lithograph by Gordon, circa 1854. “The beautiful lithograph of Dr. Monedero”, described by Daniel Frederick Eschricht in his 1860 treatise Baleines franches du golfe de Biscaye. In this paper, Eschricht is the first to distinguish between E. glacialis and B. mysticetus. He accomplished this by studying the skeleton of this whale. It temporarily became known to science as Balaena biscayensis as it was recovered at San Sebastien in the Basque country in 1854. NBWM #2001.100.6149

“Copia al Natural del Ballenato…” lithograph by Gordon, circa 1854. “The beautiful lithograph of Dr. Monedero”, described by Daniel Frederick Eschricht in his 1860 treatise Baleines franches du golfe de Biscaye. In this paper, Eschricht is the first to distinguish between E. glacialis and B. mysticetus. He accomplished this by studying the skeleton of this whale. It temporarily became known to science as Balaena biscayensis as it was recovered at San Sebastien in the Basque country in 1854. NBWM #2001.100.6149

American adoption of the “right whale” in relationship to Eubalaena glacialis stems from the writing of the Massachusetts jurist Paul Dudley (1675-1751), who penned an essay for the Royal Society in 1724-1725 entitled “An Essay upon the natural history of whales, with a particular account of the ambergris found in the spermaceti whale.” In it he describes “only such whales as are found on the coasts of New England,” including “the Right, or Whalebone Whale.” That Dudley is referring to E. glacialis and not some other species is confirmed by his description: “their scalps are sometimes found covered with thousands of Sea-lice.” These creatures also known as the whale louse, Cyamus ovalis, are a particular type of parasitic crustacean best known to inhabit the barnacle-like callosities distinctive of the Eubalaena species.

Throughout (and importantly to this discussion), Dudley refers to these whales as “right or whale-bone whales.” Dudley’s identification of E. glacialis as the right whale appears to be the origin of the American identification of E. glacialis as the right whale, yet Dudley himself seems to have derived his knowledge of whales from others. His informants included the Reverend Mr. Greenleaf of Yarmouth on Cape Cod and Mr. J. Coffin from the island of Nantucket. The Reverend Greenleaf could certainly have had solid knowledge of whales as the region of Cape Cod Bay in his immediate vicinity was the location of some of the earliest American whaling and also where, starting around 1662, portions of every whale “as by God’s providence shall be cast upon any of the shores of this Township” were allotted by law for the financial support of the clergy. One would imagine that he had firsthand knowledge as being a clergyman it was in his vested interest to do so.
Curiously, there was no guarantee that the whales encountered in Cape Cod Bay would be E. glacialis however. Humpbacks, minke whales and even fin whales were also hunted if they made an appearance. Dudley’s examination and description of the sperm whale is far more detailed than that of E. glacialis, and significantly he references that these are “more gentle fish” that “seldom fight with their tales.” He then goes on to describe the destruction and danger common to hunting “the whalebone whale.”
The wonderful, and even prodigious Strength of this Creature, which lies principally in their tails, that being both their offensive and defensive weapon. Many Instances of this Kind I have had from credible Persons, who were eye-witnesses; I will mention but a few. A boat has been cut down from top to bottom with the Tail of a Whale, as if cut with a Saw, the Clap-boards scarce splintered, tho’ the Gunnel upon the Top is of tough Wood. Another has had the Stem, or Stern-post of about three Inches through, and of the toughest Wood that can e found… cut off smooth above the Cuddee, without so much as shattering the boat, or drawing the nails of the Clap-boards. An Oar has been cut off with a Stroke upwards, and yet not so much as lifted up out of the Thole-Pin…

The baleen from these animals had been of commercial importance for over six hundred years, even being illustrated by the natural philosopher Ulyssis Aldrovandi (1522-1605) as a discrete product of commerce in his work De Piscibus Libri V, et de Cetis Lib. Unus (Bologna, 1638). Known since the time of Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) who first described it in his Historia Animalium, “mysticeti” was construed by scholars to mean “mustache,” a direct, if apocryphal allusion to the long, hair-like fringes of these baleen plates which are visible as the whales feed. Thus, Western European knowledge of baleen-bearing whales is ancient indeed and naturally that knowledge was carried over to the settlements in the New World. The exploration and ultimate settlement of the coast of New England by Europeans coincided with the advent of European commercial whaling ventures to the Arctic. 1602, the year that Bartholomew Gosnold (1572-1607) visited Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Buzzards Bay was the same year that the English Muscovy Company began whaling around Spitzbergen Island. Over the next two hundred years English, Dutch and other European nations would greatly expand their whaling adventures around Greenland and by the mid-eighteenth- century Americans would be cruising the waters of the Davis Straits as well.
Extensive documentation and description of American whaling is available for the late eighteenth and early nineteenth- centuries. In this documentation are hundreds of accounts written by whalemen confirming that right whales of the genus Eubalaena do not float after being killed any more or less than other commonly hunted species like bowhead or sperm whales. In point of fact, they were well known by whalemen to be more likely to sink than other species. In Nimrod of the Sea (New York, 1874), whaleman William Morris Davis wrote: “A peculiar feature in right-whaling is the considerable number which sink upon being killed. This rarely occurs with the sperm whale.” In a classic demonstration of how far removed American whalers had become from the origins of the language that they commonly used, Davis goes on to describe how American right-whalers in the Sea of Okhotsk failed to even recognize the bowhead whale as a species worth hunting. They had forgotten where the term “right whale” had come from and used it solely to describe Eubalaena spp.
Further, these “black whales” were frightfully dangerous to hunt, especially females with calves, and provided less oil of a poorer quality and shorter baleen than bowhead whales, the preferred whale of commerce for European nations from the seventeenth- century and earlier. By the 1830s Americans began targeting black whales on the Northwest Coast and these North Pacific whales were accounted particularly dangerous. Author and whaling master Charles Melville Scammon (1825-1911) called the right whale of the Pacific North-western Coast “the most vicious of their kind.” He was, of course, referring to the animals’ behavior when attacked as, like most whales, these are normally quite placid and inoffensive creatures. He does clearly differentiate between the Bowhead, or Great Polar Whale and the Right Whale of the Northwestern Coast.
Some instances from whalemen’s descriptions where events are completely at odds with the accepted “right whale to catch” definition emphasize the danger of the hunt as well as the unpredictable nature of whether the carcasses will float or not.

The bark Vermont of Mystic, Connecticut, for instance, while right whaling on the Northwest Coast lowered boats for whales forty-eight times between May 13 and July 10, 1844. They only managed to kill seven whales, two of which sank, the remainder of which fought back destroying whale boats and gear, smashing up crew members and ultimately escaping. Another whaleman’s account of right whaling on the Northwest Coast is even more specific: “This day raised a whale ¼ of a mile from the ship. Lowered down and struck him. After a 4 hour tow succeeded in killing him, but he sunk like a stone, lost 50 fathoms of tow line and 5 irons.” The Reverend Henry T. Cheever (1814-1897), writing for the newspaper The Friend in 1849, observed: “These huge Northwest whales are more vicious and less easily approached after they are struck than the whales of other latitudes. It is considered no disgrace to be run away with by one of these jet black fellows.”
By the 1870s, the term “right whaling” was terminology ubiquitous in the fishery for voyages targeting whalebone whales. It was applied equally to bowhead whaling in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Western Arctic as it was to right whaling on the Northwest Coast of North America or to the Brazil Banks. From a commercial or voyage management point of view large slabs of baleen were the target regardless of the species that supplied it. Additionally, while American whalers and whaling agents recognized a difference between the bowhead and the black whale, one having very high quality baleen and one shorter, poorer quality baleen, the species were not completely identified as separate in natural history texts until the middle of the nineteenth-century.

As late as 1880, taxonomists were struggling with what to call these animals. Gabriel E. Manigault, curator of the Charleston Museum in Charleston, South Carolina, described a whale that entered the harbor at Charleston in his paper “The black whale captured in Charleston Harbor January, 1880,” concluding that “the Black Whale of this coast is now considered to be the same animal as the Biscay Whale.” He goes on to determine that “there can be no doubt that the four specimens of the Black Whale already specified are entirely distinct from B mysticetus and B. australis…” and that these were the animals described by Dudley that were pursued by new England whalers for oil and baleen.
Whaling agents did, however, distinguish carefully between the quality of the oil (commonly termed “train oil,” or “common whale oil”) and baleen of bowhead and right whales in the marketplace further adding weight to the argument that “right” connotes whalebone gained from true and proper whales and nothing more. In an 1855 business letter relating to the sale of two lots of whalebone New Bedford whaling agent Jonathan Bourne, Jr. noted that “Polar” baleen taken from bowhead whales was worth more in the market than “South Seas” baleen taken from black whales: “Sperm Oil is now selling here for 180 cents pr Gall, North West Whale Oil 72 cents, Polar bone 45 cents, So. Sea do. [ditto] about 40 cents.”
In 1908, Joel Asaph Allen (1838-1921) wrote an article for the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History entitled “The North Atlantic Right Whale and its Near Allies.” It is a thorough summary of the history of right whale systematics, an immensely convoluted subject, but one in which he clearly describes the process of identifying and describing Eubalaena glacialis scientifically. His work established a strong platform from which to think about these problematic animals and his fine synopsis, “Recognized as different from the Greenland whale by whalers of the 17th and 18th centuries,” outlines many of the most important sources in English that serve as the basis of the scientific understanding of Eubalaena spp.
He quotes the earliest printed references including those of Thomas Edge (English Muscovy Company factor, fl. 1611-1622) whose “Description of seuerall [sic] sorts of Whales and the manner of killing them” includes the Sarda which is characterized as being smaller than the Greenland whale having shorter baleen and producing much less oil. This is explained much later by Pierre-Joseph van Beneden (1809-1894), a Belgian zoologist and paleontologist who, along with the French paleontiologist Paul Gervais (1816-1879), wrote the major work of whale anatomy, Ostéographie des cétacés vivants et fossiles (Paris, 1880). Van Beneden noted: “There exist two species of true whales (Right Whales) in the North Atlantic and on the coasts of Greenland, – one the common whale, called also the Greenland whale, and the other the Sarde or Nordcaper.” He noted also that the latter “is the same species which visits the coasts of Europe in winter and the coasts of America in summer.” Hans Egede (1686-1758), the eighteenth-century Danish missionary to Greenland, is also quoted but he underscores that European whalers did not purposefully pursue E. glacialis: “His fat is tougher and harder than that of the Great-bay Whale (bowhead); neither are his barders or bones (baleen) so long and valuable, for which reason he is neglected.” Egede makes another significant observation, being “informed on good authority” that the Greenland whale is “de store Havle af den rette sort, som har store barder,” (the large whales of the right sort, having large whalebone). Perhaps most significant of all is a passage “traced back to the celebrated Kongespeil (Mirror of Royalty) of the 12th century where we learn that this “sletbag” of the old Icelanders was really a whalebone whale (and therefore as a whalebone whale with a finless back, a right-whale).”
The scientific nomenclature and systematics, while useful, are of lesser importance to the analysis of why the animal today known as the “right whale” came to be known thus. More important is an analysis of the language of the literature written about the animal, and the language of whalemen and Allen gives a good background. For instance, he quotes the eighteenth-century chroniclers of the American colonies, William Douglass (ca. 1700-1752), and Hector St. John de Crevecoeur (1735-1813). Douglas in particular gave an early account of the New England whale fishery that seems completely at odds with most modern descriptive attributes of E. glacialis:
The New England true whale is the same with the European North-cape whales, are not easily killed being agile and very wild: the Dutch do not fish them… the whale-bone whales killed upon the coast of New England, Labrador, and the entrance to Davis-straits, are smaller; do not yield exceeding 120 to 130 barrels of oil, and of nine feet bone 140 lb. wt. they are wilder more agile and do fight.

Douglass clearly differentiates the right whales by geographical locale and emphasizes the commercial value of the bowhead whale significantly calling it the “true whale”:
The most beneficial is the black whale, whale-bone whale or true whale, as they call it, in Davis’s-straits, in N. lat. 70º and upwards. They are very large, some yield 150 puncheons, being 400 or 500 barrels of oil, and bone of eighteen feet and upwards; they are a heavy loggy fish, and so do not fight.

By interpreting this definition or description of right whales generally as best represented by authors of the period as bowhead whales, the idea is upheld that the whales are slow and easily captured as well as being a preferred commercial prey species.
To in turn apply that definition to Eubalaena glacialis and ascribe the current plight of the imperiled population of animals to overhunting for the reasons described seems misleading. As the above passages suggest, to many commercial whaling nations, Eubalaena glacialis was, in fact, the wrong whale to hunt. If American colonists hunted these animals, which they undoubtedly did, their endangered status and lack of recovery after two hundred years of not being hunted at all can only be explained and understood by means other than researching historical records to determine the number of whales taken. The historical records while unequivocal on several points of geography and species targeted, ultimately seem insufficient to explain the suppressed and slow recovery of the species. Hence the significance of current research into the DNA of E. glacialis. The plight of Eubalaena glacialis is perhaps best understood by looking much further back in time, specifically ten thousand years ago when a major mega-fauna collapse in North America saw the elimination of many terrestrial species of large mammals. Perhaps there is an analog in this whale species that lives so close to the coast.
The language of American whalemen is revealing and lends itself to adoption by convenience as opposed to any specific intent as far as hunting is concerned. On May 21, 1769, Captain Peter Pease set sail onboard the schooner Squirrel from Bedford Village in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, on a whaling cruise to the Davis Straits. On the 24 of June around latitude 63º north he recorded that he “saw three right whales.” On June 27 he recorded “at four past meridian spoke with [Captain] Nathaniel Coleman, “a cutting a seven foot bone whail.” Throughout this cruise Pease specifically records seeing finbacks, humpbacks, spermaceti and right whales. That he made a distinction between “right whales” and “seven-foot bone whales” suggests that he was describing two different kinds of animals yet in later entries he refers to right whales and “seven foot four inch bone whails” in the same entries (ODHS #458B) Significantly, Pease mentions seeing several other vessels and he cruised in company with one or another colonial American vessel throughout his voyage. It must have been a good whaling ground.
Likewise, Peleg Folger of Nantucket in 1754 described three separate species of whales commonly hunted on the coast of Labrador. These included the right whale, the spermaceti whale and the humpback whale. It is unclear whether he is describing the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) or the right whale (Eubalaena glacialis), or whether he even distinguishes the two.

1. A Right whale is a very Large fish (for the most part); they are somewhat hollowing on their back, being all Slick and Smooth and having no hump at all as other whales; their bone (of which is made Stays and hoop’d petticoats) doth grow in their mouth, the upper end or Butt growing in the Gum of the upper jaw. Their tongue is monstrous Large and will commonly make a Tun of Oyl; their bone is from 3 to 12 feet long according to the bigness of the whale and is all the teeth they have. They have two Spoutholes and make a forked Spout whereby they are distinguished from other whales at a Distance.

In Moby-Dick, Herman Melville’s Ishmael calls right whales “inferior creatures,” and “commonly disdained” by sperm whalers. Indeed, his character Stubb describes the right whale as a “foul lump of lard,” hardly attributes consistent with “the right whale to catch.” That right whales were a major target species of 18th and 19th century American whalers is obvious. That they were the preferred species for anything other than cheap oil and generally marketable baleen remains doubtful. When Thomas Welcome Roys finally penetrated the Behring Straits in 1848 he ushered in the great era of American whaling in the Western Arctic. This fishery was universally described as “right whaling” despite that fact that it was a bowhead fishery almost exclusively.
In the Whalemen’s Shipping List and Merchants’ Transcript (June 13, 1854) an article appeared that “the Nantucket Inquirer announces that a large right whale was seen near that island Friday spouting lustily. Preparations were made to attack him on Saturday morning, but at that time he was nowhere to be seen. Our Nantucket friends were never very successful at capturing right whales. If the animal wanted to be caught and cut up, he should have come to New Bedford.” The great fortunes of New Bedford whaling agents were made hunting Eubalaena species. These, however, were not the North Atlantic right whales that 19th century whalemen were hunting, they were southern right whales and North Pacific right whales, two entirely different species. By cruising in the South Atlantic along the coasts of South America and Africa masters could fill up their vessels and return to New Bedford within two years, often sooner. This exploitation of a large population resource allowed New Bedford to market a great deal of cheap oil and keep the markets trading while their longer sperm whaling voyages were at sea.
By the time most of the important New England whaling ports came to their height North Atlantic right whales were hardly to be seen. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1792 that Americans were led into whaling by “the whales which presented themselves on their coasts…” and that these whales, “being infested, retired from the coast.” By “infested” Jefferson is referring to being harassed by hunters. Paradoxically he goes on to describe sperm whales “of a different species from that of Greenland, which alone had hitherto been known in commerce.” Greenland whales have always been synonymous with Balaena mysticetus and it would be extraordinary indeed if bowhead whales were encountered on the coasts of New England. Importantly, however, Jefferson then makes the distinction that Yankee whalers “found a third species of whale” on the Coast of Brazil which they called the “black or Brazil whale.” This is Eubalaena australis, the southern right whale. Whether Thomas Jefferson was truly well informed about the details of the Yankee whale fishery is doubtful as other 18th century sources indicate that local Cape Cod whalers did call these animals right whales, but they also called them true whales, bone whales, black whales and North-capers.
Frederick W. True (1858-1914), Head Curator of the Department of Biology at the Smithsonian Museum, for instance, wrote in 1904, “The Atlantic right whale known to American whalers was called by them the black whale in allusion to its color.” He includes in his “Chapter III-A Review of Cope’s and Scammon’s Species” the following synopsis of nomenclature: “Genus BALÆNA Linnæus. 1. Balæna cisarctica Cope. 1865. “The Black Whale of the Whalers of our Coast.” which Cope believed “was an animal distinguishable from the species frequenting the coasts of Europe, and not because it was a rare American form unknown to whalers and others whose business was with the sea.” Cope believed that this species (late identified as E. glacialis) “may readily occur on the European coast ; and is no doubt allied to or the same as the species pursued by the Biscayan whalers.” Cope’s observations helped to solidify the idea that one distinct species of black whale was endemic to the North Atlantic.
Cope’s theory of the range and distinction of species as far as E. glacialis is concerned remains debatable today. As the population of E glacialis is small (currently about 450 animals) estimates of its possible pre-hunted range are currently being researched one American whaleman was unequivocal in his ideas about the animal:
“The Black, or Right Whale is generally found in high latitudes from 30 degrees to 55 degrees both north and south. They are scarcely ever found any great distance from the land; and in the calving season the females seek out some sandy bay where the water is shoal, smooth and clear. Here they keep their young until able to face the rough weather outside. They generally go in pairs & are very vicious, especially when protecting their young, they will fight while life remains in them, & a great many lives are lost in capturing them… they disappear in the winter seasons.”

In conclusion, the preponderance of evidence indicates that “right whale” is a generic term for the Mysticeti collectively. Further, the description of these as being “the right whales to catch” appears to have been derived from English sources and applies solely to Balaena mysticetus, the bowhead whale. The genera Eubalaena and its three species have long been known as the “black whale” having very different commercial properties from the bowhead. By applying the definition of “the right whale to catch” to Eubalaena glacialis historians, scientists and the public have been led to believe that the wholesale targeting of this species is the reason for its currently small, almost stagnant population. Not only does the historical record not definitively support this, but current research into the DNA of this species points in a very different direction as well. These animals were not particularly targeted by early Basque whalers, Dutch commercial whalers, or by the English, who each sustained very large and successful commercial fisheries in the North Atlantic for well over one hundred years. The American whalers, who targeted humpbacks, sperm whales and bowhead whales as well as black whales, are thus credited with the near extirpation of an entire species in less than 100 years, a scenario that seems unlikely for the short period that organized, sophisticated whaling was taking place in the coastal waters of the colonies. For all of these reasons, it remains vital to preserve whatever populations of Eubalaena glacialis exist. Renaming them “black whales” may help to pare down the connotations of language further enabling our understanding of the creatures and freeing us to seek new answers to their complex population predicament.

P.J. van Beneden, Histoire Naturelle de la baleine des Basques (Balaena biscayensis),
(Mémoire présenté à la Classe des sciences dans la séance du 11 May 1886, p. 27.

The Encyclopedia Britannica, eleventh edition (1911), distinguishes between bowhead whales and right whales calling the former “right whales,” and the latter “black whales.”

See: Richard Ellis, The Book of Whales (New York, 1980); Mark Carwardine, Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises (New York and London, 1995); “Right Whales: Worldwide Status,” The Journal of Cetacean Research and Management (Cambridge, 2001), etc.

William E. Schevill and Karen E. Moore specify the right whale as peculiarly American, “the nordkaper, or right whale of American usage.” Schevill and Moore, “Townsend’s unmapped North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis). In: Breviora: Museum of Comparative Zoology, Number 476 (29 April 1983), p. 4.

Flower, Sir William Henry, Essays on Museums and other Subjects Connected with Natural History (New York, 1898), p. 194.

Ibid. p. 194.

See: Elizabeth Ingalls, Whaling Prints in the Francis B. Lothrop Collections (Salem, MA: 1987), pp. 21-66 for a large selection of pictorial works of English whales and whaling. Many of these historical prints have captions many of which differentiate the spermaceti whale from other whales but do not separate right whales into species. Eubalaena glacialis does not appear in Englaish pictorial sources as a hunted species.

William Scoresby, Jr. An Account of the Arctic Regions, Vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1820), pp. 449-450.
See also: William Scoresby “Account of the Balaena Mysticetus, or Great Northern or Greenland Whale.” In: Memoirs of the Wernerian Society, Vol. 1 (1813), p. 578. Scoresby’s description of baleen is exceptionally detailed: “To the upper jaw is attached the substance called whalebone, which is straight in some individuals, and in others convex. The laminae or blades are not all of equal length : neither are the largest exactly in the middle of the series, but somewhat nearer the throat ; from this point they become gradually shorter each way. In each side of the mouth are about 200 lamina? of whalebone. They are not perfectly flat; for besides the longi tudinal curvature already mentioned, they are curved trans versely. The largest laminae are from 10 to 14 feet in length, very rarely 15 feet in length. The breadth of the largest at the thick ends, or where they are attached to the jaw, is about a foot. The Greenland fishers estimate the size of the whale by the length of the whalebone : where the whalebone is six feet long, then the whale is said to be a size fish. In suckers, or young whales still under the protection of the mother, the whalebone is only a few inches long. The whalebone is immediately covered by the two under lips, the edges of which, when the mouth is shut, overlap the upper part in a squamous manner.”

Henry William Dewhurst, The Natural History of the Order Cetacea (London, 1834).

Joseph Bassett Holder, “Article VI. – The Atlantic Right Whales.” In: Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 1, No. 4 (May 1, 1883).

A. Howard Clark, “The Whale Fishery. 1. – History and Present Condition of the Fishery.” In: The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States. Prepared by George Brown Goode, Section V, History and Methods of the Fisheries, (Washington, 1887), p. 15.

Reeves, Randall R., and Robert D. Kenney, “Baleen Whales: Right Whales and Allies.” In: Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management and Conservation, edited by George A. Feldhamer., Bruce C. Thompson and Joseph A. Chapman. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003, p. 425.

William Henry Flower, surgeon and zoologist with a special interest in comparative anatomy, created a hierarchy of commercial value as far as “whalebone” or baleen was concerned putting rorqual baleen at the lowest value and bowhead baleen at the highest: “there is a gradual transition, through the rorquals or finners, the humpbacks, the southern right whales, up to the Greenland whale, which exhibits this structure in its greatest perfection, both for the purposes it serves in the animal economy, and for the uses to which it has been applied by man.” Essays on museums and other subjects connected with natural history (New York and London, 1898).

James Travis Jenkins (1876- ) was Superintendent of the Lancashire and Western Sea Fisheries Committee, regulating the fisheries on the Welsh and English coasts until 1943.

Toolika Rastogi, et al. “Genetic analysis of 16th-century whale bones prompts a revision of the impact of Basque whaling on right and bowhead whales in the western North Atlantic.” In: Canadian Journal of Zoology, Vol. 82, No. 10 (October 2004), pp. 1647–1654.

“An 1849 statement on the habits of right whales by Captain Daniel McKenzie of New Bedford.” In The American Neptune, Vol. 14, No. 2 (April, 1954), p. 139-141. The letter was in preparation for Maury’s important “Whale Chart of the World,” published in 1852.

, William A. Watkins and William E. Schevill, “Observations of right whales, Eubalaena glacialis, in Cape Cod waters.” In: Fishery Bulletin, Vol. 80, No. 4 (1982), p. 875.

Robert Montgomery Martin, History of the British Colonies: Possessions in Africa and Austral-Asia Vol. 4 (London, 1835), p. 363, “the black whale is found in abundance along the coast of New South Wales.”

Rhys Richards, “Southern Right Whales: Original Global Stocks.” IWC Workshop on Right Whale Stocks. Capetown, March 1998.

Glover M. Allen, Monographs of the Natural History of New England: The Whalebone Whales of New England, Memoirs of the Boston Society of Natural History, Vol. 8, No. 2 (September, 1916), p. 145.

Joel Asaph Allen, “The Right Whale of the North Atlantic,” in Science , Vol. 1, No. 21 (June 29, 1883), p. 598.

Paul Dudley, “An essay upon the natural history of whales, with a particular account of the ambergris found in the sperma ceti whale,” in: Philosophical Transactions (1683-1775), Vol. 33 (1724-1725, pp. 256-257.

John Braginton-Smith and Duncan Oliver, Cape Cod Shore Whaling: America’s First Whalemen (Yarmouthport, MA 2004), pp. 77-78.

Ibid, p. 136

Dudley, pp. 263-264.

The dearth of descriptive accounts of Eubalaena glacialis from the American whaler’s viewpoint is because little descriptive writing survives from the greatest period of their exploitation, the late 17th and 18th centuries. The best accounts of the behavior of hunted right whales come from whalemen who were hunting the southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) and the North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica) although some 17th century European sources give important insights into right whale behavior.

Charles Melville Scammon, The Marine Mammals of the North-western Coast of North America (San Francisco, 1874), p. 69.

For a complete analysis of the evolution of the nomenclature identifying Eubalaena glacialis as distinct from Balaena mysticetus see: Joseph Bassett Holder, “Article VI. – The Atlantic Right Whales…” in American Museum of Natural History Bulletin No. 4 (May 1, 1883). For a more up to date synopsis of cetacean nomenclature see: Philip Hershkovitz, Catalog of Living Whales (Washington, 1966).

G.E. Manicault, “The black whale captured in Charleston Harbor January, 1880.” In: Proceedings of the Elliot Society (September 1885), p. 100-101.

Old Dartmouth Historical Society Mss 18, Bourne Letter book, 1854-1856

William Henry Flower, ed. Recent Memoirs on the Cetacea by Professors Eschricht, Reinhardt and Lilljeborg (London, 1866), p. 13.

Joel Asaph Allen, “The North Atlantic Right Whale and its Near Allies,” from Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol. XXIV, Art. XVIII (April 8, 1908), pp. 281-284.

William Douglass in his book A summary, historical and political, of the first planting, progressive improvements, and present state of the British settlements in North-America (Boston, 1755)

“Our genetic data from the single historic right whale bone that we have identified (from about 1565) suggests that even before commercial whaling began on this species in the WN Atlantic they had very low genetic variation. Our current theory has been that they must have suffered (like you suggest) during previous ice ages, which might have eliminated critical feeding or calving areas.” Private correspondence from Brenna McLeod, Ph.D of Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. See also: Brenna Mcleod, et al. “DNA profile of a sixteenth century western North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis).” In: Conservation Genetics, Vol. 11 (2010), p. 339.

Remarkable Observations: The Whaling Journal of Peleg Folger, 1751-54. Edited by Thomas Philbrick. Nantucket, MA: Mill Hill Press, 2006, p. 44.

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, the Whale (New York, 1851), chapter 73.

American whalers in the Western Arctic also targeted gray whales.

A comparative survey in Alexander Starbuck, History of the American Whale Fishery (Waltham, 1876) of the returns of Nantucket and New Bedford between 1823 and 1855 clearly indicates that New Bedford vessels returned vastly more whale oil and whale bone than Nantucket vessels, even at the height of the Nantucket sperm whale fishery. Whaling agent Jonathan Bourne, Jr., among the most successful American whaling agents ever suggested that Nantucketers were nto as interested in right whaling as they were in sperm whaling. “We don’t think much of Sperm whalemen from Nantucket for the North whaling…” (Jonathan Bourne, Old Dartmouth Historical Society MSS 18, Letter book, 1858-1859, July 1, 1858).

Thomas Jefferson,

Frederick W. True, The Whalebone Whales of the Western North Atlantic…(Washington, 1904), p. 249.

Ibid., p. 78-79

Daniel C. Whitfield, journal kept onboard the bark Dr. Franklin of Westport, Massachusetts, 1856-1859. KWM #1033. Held at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

History of seafood marketing in the Port of New Bedford, Massachusetts

Arthur P.  Motta, Jr.
Curator, New Bedford & Old Dartmouth History.HaddockFilletWrapSeal

In August 2014, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law aimed at creating a “coordinated program to market seafood landed in the commonwealth and to take other actions to increase consumer demand and preference for local seafood products, to support the commonwealth’s fishing and seafood industry and the residents and communities that benefit from these activities.” More than seven years in the making, the promotional effort officially kicked off on August 7 at the 2016 Boston Seafood Festival with the launch of the Seafood Marketing Steering Committee. This is welcome news for the state’s seafood industry. As the state’s efforts gear up, it may be useful to review briefly a few of the public/private seafood marketing initiatives of the past, which were developed to address specific consumer preferences.

John_Linehan_by Paul Swain_2010090

John F. Linehan (1922-2016) photo: Paul Swain

Promotional efforts in the Port of New Bedford have periodically been undertaken over the years to position the city’s various seafood products for greater consumption in existing markets and to stimulate growth of new markets. These initiatives have variously been tried by municipal officials and their harbor agencies, industry groups and regional business organizations. These initiatives were enthusiastic but limited by the financial resources available, which restricted market penetration beyond the immediate region. Only the multiyear effort during the late1950s and ‘60s to increase the retail market for scallops had a transformative effect, which continues to sustain New Bedford’s working waterfront to the present day. It was conducted in part by the late John F. Linehan (1922-2016), a trailblazer in seafood marketing. Due in part to his early efforts and others that followed him, New Bedford ranks as the top commercial fishing port for the 15th consecutive year with a dollar value of $329 million for the landed catch (Standard-Times 10/29/15).


City of New Bedford bumper sticker, 2004.

Although the scallop fishery was known to exist in New Bedford as early as 1883, its localized consumer base was limited by product life and seasonality due to weather conditions, which affect harvest. With the introduction of refrigerated trucking in the early twentieth century, new markets began to develop in New York and New England. However, seafood consumers who were more accustomed to buying cod, haddock and other ground species as well as traditional shellfish such as lobster and clams, were reluctant to try scallop “meats,” due in part due to their shape, which looked to some like a strange byproduct of the catch. A 1939 article in a New York newspaper noted “Even those who have eaten scallop with a smacking realization of their goodness have harbored a vague belief that the small, soft round scallop, which bears no outward likeness to crab or oyster, fish, lobster, shrimp or clam, was punched in a faintly deceptive dodge out of some fish or other with a circular metal device.”

Renowned marine biologist and ocean conservationist Rachel Carson took the issue of scallop underutilization further in her 1942 seminal report titled Food From the Sea: Fish and Shellfish of New England for the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Bulletin. She noted “Only the large muscle that controls the shell movements is eaten. This muscle (called the “eye”) comprises only a small proportion of the total weight of the meat. The remainder is discarded or used as bait or fertilizer, although it is good, edible meat. In Europe the entire scallop is eaten, and there seems to be no good reason why it should be wasted here.”

Pearl_of_the_Atlantic_ad_1963In the early 1960’s an advertising campaign funded in part by the New Bedford Seafood Co-Op included the production of a film documentary titled “The Pearl of the Atlantic” which introduced markets beyond New England to the scallop with comparisons to meat, extolling it as “an excellent buy because there is no fat or bone to be weighed and paid for. High in protein and minerals; low in fat, low in calories and sodium. They’re a fine nutritious food for a balanced diet.” The Seafood Co-Op with the New Bedford Exchange Club launched in 1958 the New Bedford Scallop Festival as a major promotional vehicle for the fishery. Large tents were erected at Marine Park on Pope’s Island for the annual August event, due to the island’s high visibility to motorists and vacationers via US Route 6, the major interstate artery to Cape Cod and the Islands. The marketing included a cartoon mascot, Sammy Scallop, who boasted a top hat and pearl tiepin. Festival publicity subcommittee co-chairs, Charles E. Sharek and Otavio A. Modesto along with John F. Linehan – general manager of the New Bedford Seafood Producers Association – worked with a Hartford, Connecticut Sammy_the_Scallop_Says_1963advertising executive Tom McFarlane to develop the Sammy mascot, which was joined by Susie Scallop. Festival expenses were underwritten in part through the advance sale of certificates, “shares purchased by festival boosters,” which could be purchased in denominations of $5, $10, $25, $50 and available at multiple banks and businesses throughout the city. Mathias Bendiksen and Robert Selig comprised the Festival Certificates subcommittee, promoting them as a community minded effort to “help defray costs of putting on the effort.” The names of businesses and individuals who purchased certificates were published in the newspaper and on festival programs.

Sharek, a city pharmacist and active Exchange Club member, advanced the idea of jointly “holding a seafood fiesta to salute the fishing industry” with the New Bedford Seafood Producers Association. Sharek noted to the press, “After approval from the club aims committee we met with John Linehan… and we agreed adoption of the general theme, “Scallop Festival,” would be the most appropriate and have the best promotional potential.” He added that scallops were the chosen focus because “At that time, the Seafood Council was devoting most if its energy promoting this particular commodity.

New Bedford Scallop Festival at Marine Park, Pope's Island, New Bedford, c.1960

New Bedford Scallop Festival at Marine Park, Pope’s Island, New Bedford, c.1960

By 1963, the 22-member committee was headed by John Carew, vice-president of the Goodhue Lumber Company and a past president of the Exchange Clubs of Massachusetts. Roy F. Mason and Patrick L. Sweeney were vice-chairs. Melvin E. Fryer was site director and Omer E. Raymond was festival adviser. The large group included business leaders from almost every sector of the community. Subcommittees included Finance, Food Procurement, Equipment Procurement, Supplies, Utilities, Tents, Tickets, Certificates, Publicity, Beauty Pageant, Entertainment, Boat Rides, and Dismantling & Storage.

As John Linehan explained in a recent interview for this article, “In 1957, the New Bedford Seafood Council and the then New Bedford Seafood Co-op were off-shoots of the Seafood Producers Association, which was comprised primarily of the boat owners. The business of seafood was multilayered – with a company operating multiple subsidiary companies, which, due to the tax advantages realized, handled the buying, processing, and selling of seafood separately.”

Until the Scallop Festival, little in the way of cooperative promotional campaigns to stimulate overall sales or grow new markets for the port as a whole was undertaken. In many instances the various fish processors and producers of seafood were fierce competitors. An early attempt to simply brand all port products with a byline was initiated by the New Bedford Seafood Council. “Sea Harvest of the Great New Bedford Fleet” was a slogan, which the Council invited all local processers to include on their packaging and promotional materials. This effort was not widely adopted.

New Bedford Fillet Co. wax wrapper, c. 1955-60 (collection Arthur Motta)

New Bedford Fillet Co. wax wrapper, c. 1955-60 (collection Arthur Motta)

Many New Bedford seafood companies pursued individual branding. The New Bedford Fillet Co. dispensed their product in printed wax paper wrappers while extolling the convenience of ready to cook fillets. The 1950s was a decade of rapid growth for the New Bedford scallop fishery and several promotional activities were orchestrated to promote scallops through the New Bedford Seafood Association, according to John Linehan. “The first year there was $12,000 for advertising and we had to prove that it would work, but the budget was not enough to enter the New York City market, so it was launched in Hartford, instead. There we saw a 500% increase in sales. The next year they had $40,000, which allowed them to break into the New York market. Promotional activities included direct outreach to food editors via luncheons in Manhattan. French chef André Surmain was hired as a consultant and with James Beard arranged the gourmet scallop dishes for these parties. After that, scallops really took off,” Linehan said.

The other major challenge was price stability, Linehan explained. “We tried to establish a flat market rate of around 45¢ because scallops were about 30¢ a pound in the summer and 60¢ in the winter.”

New Bedford Seafood Council branding sticker, c. 1975-80. Designer: Clement E. Daley.

New Bedford Seafood Council branding sticker, c. 1975-80. Designer: Clement E. Daley.

In the 1980s a new branding campaign was initiated by the New Bedford Seafood Council with the slogan “The New Bedford Fisherman – He brings out the best in seafood.” The effort included print advertising and collateral such as decals, labels, bumper stickers and billboard graphics, created by artist Clement E. Daley. In a boarder way, the 1980s also saw a statewide campaign touting the value of Massachusetts products coupled with community pride messaging under the umbrella slogan “Make it in Massachusetts.” Funded by the Massachusetts Department of Commerce during the Governor Edward J. King Administration, the campaign included 30 and 15-second TV commercials featuring large Massachusetts-based corporations such as Polaroid, John Hancock Insurance and State Street Bank with voiceovers proclaiming they were “Making it in Massachusetts” and accompanied by a jingle soundtrack. TheMake_It_In_Mass_LOGO spots also included aerial footage of communities with large urban renewal projects underway, such as Fall River’s Battleship Cove district. While these efforts did not rise to the level of branding, they set a precedent for state-funded promotional activities for products and services.

Developing new consumers for currently underutilized species as a sustainable growth strategy harkens back to Rachel Carson’s concerns more than 70 years ago, and points to a comprehensive marketing approach with all the producing ports of the Commonwealth.

In 2009, the Standard-Times reported a “proposal, put forth by Rep. James Cantwell, D-Marshfield, would create a 13-member panel that would be tasked with investigating the feasibility of a statewide coordinated seafood marketing program… The commission, he said, would be made up entirely of volunteers and would require no state funding.” Near the end of 2013, it again reported: “The bill calls for a seafood marketing program to be set up within the state Division of Marine Fisheries. The lawmakers say the goal is a coordinated approach that will increase demand for seafood and consumer preference for products from the state’s own commercial fishing and seafood industry…. The legislation reflects the recommendations made by the Special Commission on Seafood Marketing in its July 2013 report.” (Dec. 27, 2013)

In the 188th Massachusetts General Court (2013-2014), the bill (S.1979) sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Bruce Tarr, Rep. Antonio F. D. Cabral and others called for the program to “be established within the division of marine fisheries (DMF) a coordinated program to market seafood landed in the commonwealth and to take other actions to increase consumer demand and preference for the said local seafood products and support for the commonwealth’s fishing and seafood industry and the residents and communities that benefit from these activities.” A new draft of the bill was substituted (S.2422) on December 31, 2014. According to Rep. Cabral’s office, “Language to create the Seafood Marketing Program was included in an Economic Development Bill passed by the Legislature… Chapter 287 of the Acts of 2014.” The work of the state’s new seafood marketing initiative should ensure that New Bedford is a primary beneficiary.

New Bedford Harbor. (Photo: Arthur Motta)

New Bedford Harbor. (Photo: Arthur Motta)

Quasimodo: The Museum’s Humpback Whale

Story by Lauren Coombes, Education Intern.

The Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) skeleton that hangs in the Jacob’s Family Gallery is a 37 foot long male nicknamed Quasimodo, whose estimated age at time of death was 3 years old. He was found in 1932 and was first hung in the museum in 1936. This is his story.

Quasimodo's ribs, on Noman's Land. Photo from NBWM Collection. 1988.6.338.b

Quasimodo’s ribs, on Noman’s Land. Photo from NBWM Collection. 1988.6.338.b

On December 29, 1932 Captain Ralph W. Wood noticed a mysterious black object floating off Noman’s Land, an island 3 miles off the southwest corner of Martha’s Vineyard. He lived on the island with his family and they were the island’s only inhabitants. Captain Wood then took his powerboat Flit out about a mile from the island and discovered that the object was the carcass of a humpback whale. As he arrived, so too did the U.S. Coast Guard. Captain Wood convinced the Coast Guard to help him tow the whale to land, citing it as a menace to navigation. From there they attached a four-inch hawser to the carcass. The whale was difficult to move and, “three such hawsers were snapped before the whale could be beached on the Noman’s Land shore!”

After towing it to shore they fastened the whale to a large rock. Soon after, a nor’easter then tore the whale from the rock, throwing it farther up shore and past the high water mark. The carcass was then left until August, 1933 when Wilbur G. Sherman, an old-time whaleman from New Bedford heard about the whale and arranged a meeting between Captain Wood and William H. Tripp, curator for the Old Dartmouth Historical Society. John B. Smith, a scientist connected with the Boston Museum of Natural History accompanied Tripp on his August visit to the island. Mr. Smith determined that the specimen could be salvaged and set up in a museum. Mr. Tripp then convinced the Historical Society’s board to purchase the whale. Mr. Tripp made the voyage to Noman’s Land accompanied by Captain Wood, Bertrand T. Wood (Captain Wood’s son), Mr. Sherman, Lester Brownell, George T. Plummer and Paul Lynam.

Bones and tent on shore of Noman's Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.306

Bones and tent on shore of Noman’s Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.306

Throughout September the crew attempted to strip Quasimodo of his blubber, take out his bones, and tag them so they could easily be put back together later. Bertrand Wood kept a detailed journal, similar in style to that of a sea log, of the stripping and cataloguing process. He gave members of the project names that would befit a whale ship. Mr. Tripp was the Commodore, Ralph Wood was the Captain, Bertrand Wood was the first mate, Mr. Sherman was the official whale-cutter, William L. Pierce was the assistant cutter, Herbert Wood was the assistant cutter, and Jerome Fraser was the cook. As they took apart the whale they found that two finger bones were missing, and a news article also reported that the Atlas, the first vertebra of the skeleton, was also missing and never found. Though it is confirmed that the finger bones were in fact missing, there appears to be a proper fitting atlas on our skeleton.

The process of cleaning the bones was the next step and they were buried at Horseneck Beach in Westport, MA for 6 months. They were then uncovered, scraped, and reburied for another 6 months. This burying of a skeleton in sand was not an unusual way to prepare it. The location of the burial was kept confidential and was constantly under watch to prevent thieves and pranksters. After they were uncovered and scraped for the second time, they were left to bleach for several days in the sun, on the roof of the Museum. After the bleaching process was complete the skeleton was assembled and was hung in the Bourne Building in 1936. And curator Tripp quoted “We are no longer a whaling museum without a whale.” The whale was then taken down and reassembled in the 1980s near the theater, and with the completion of the Jacobs Family Gallery in August 2000, it now has its official home.

Quasimodo's spine on shore of Noman's Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.301

Quasimodo’s spine on shore of Noman’s Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.301

There is no confirmed cause of Quasimodo’s death, but one possibility is that he was killed by an orca (killer whale). This is due to the fact that Quasimodo was found without a tongue. It is a common behavior of orcas to bite off the tongues of other whales and leave them to die. Curator Tripp drew this conclusion when he examined the whale on his first visit to the island. Although not common in our coastal waters, orcas can be found off our coast. At the time this story was being written (summer 2016), an orca had been spotted by a fishing charter operator off the Massachusetts coast.

According to a recent NOAA report, there are fourteen humpback whale distinct population segments (DPS) that have been identified around the globe. Of those fourteen two are classified as threatened, the Central America DPS and the Western North Pacific DPS. An additional two groups are classified as endangered, the Arabian Sea DPS and the Cape Verde Islands/ Northwest Africa DPS. The current population is estimated to be 70,000-80,000, which is still less than 50% of their pre-whaling population. Though their biggest threat of commercial whaling no longer affects this species, they face many other significant threats. These threats include: entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, harassment from whale watch boats (especially in countries with little to no regulation), noise pollution and habitat impacts.

Works Cited

The Bulletin from Johnny Cake Hill A Newsletter from the Old Dartmouth Historical Society & Whaling Museum Fall 1987

The Standard-Times, New Bedford, MA Friday, July 17, 1987

Wood, Bertrand. Legends and Stories of Noman’s Land Island. (Jewett City, CT, 1978).

Our Latest ‘Whaling Voyage’. The Standard Times, New Bedford, MA Oct. 15, 1933.

The Standard Times New Bedford, MA, September 16, 1933.

NOAA Fisheries “Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Updated July 12, 2016. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/whales/humpback-whale.html


Learning About Whales: From Challenging Research Comes Great Discoveries

The recent discovery of a new beaked whale species, one that was believed to be a variant of a previously described species, is a reminder that our understanding of cetaceans is still limited. Humans have revered whales, and hunted whales, for centuries. They’ve been woven into folklore and turned into a variety of products. But, they are difficult to study. They spend most of their lives below the ocean’s surface and don’t speak human. Conversely, we can’t hold our breath for very long and we don’t speak whale.  So, getting to know them well is a challenge.

Researchers have gotten creative and collaborative, developing satellite tags that attach via suction cup, using drones fitted with bridal veil to catch whale’s spray when they exhale, collecting and analyzing fecal matter and using DNA technology to confirm, or reclassify, the existence of a new species.  That is the case with the as yet unnamed new species of beaked whale. It has been interesting to periodically check in on the web site of the Society for Marine Mammalogy to see what they list as the number of whale, dolphin and porpoise species (about to become 90 again), and to read the logic regarding their decisions.

Here’s a quick peek into some other recent discoveries:

Cuvier's beaked whale. Illustration by Phil Coles.

Cuvier’s beaked whale. Illustration by Phil Coles.

The Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) has the deepest dives (9816 feet (2992m) and 137.5 minutes) of any marine mammal. A team of researchers, led by Gregory Schorr of Cascadia Research Collectives, made this discovery in 2014 after sifting through 3,700 hours of data collected with satellite tags. (Gregory Schorr, PLOS One, March 2014).

Another species of beaked whale, now known as Deraniyagala’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon hotaula), was confirmed in 2014. This species was originally given this name in 1963, but was reclassified in 1965 as a gingko-toothed whale (Mesoplodon gingkodens). A review of DNA and physical characteristics, led by Dr. Merel Dalebout of Univ of New South Wales, Australia, led to the proper taxonomic recognition and placement of this species. (Merel Dalebout, Marine Mammal Science, February 2014).

Humpback family. Illustration by Richard Ellis.

Humpback family. Illustration by Richard Ellis.

Humpbacks whales, arguably the most recognizable type of whale, are a global species. We now know that their cultural habits and migration patterns have led to genetic diversity. A team led by Dr. Scott Baker from Oregon State examined 2200 biopsy samples of North Pacific humpbacks. Their research has determined that there are five distinct humpback whale populations in the North Pacific. This new information may prove critical when decisions are made regarding the level of protection these animals receive.  (Scott Baker, Marine Ecology – Progress Series, 2013).

Author with skulls of male and female Blainville's beaked whales.

Author with skulls of male and female Blainville’s beaked whales.

Whales are adaptable, intelligent animals.  One impressive example of this ability to adjust behavior to maximize survival is exhibited by the Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris).  In an effort to avoid predators like the orca, Blainville’s remain silent until they reach a depth of 560 ft (170m), at which point they will begin to communicate and echolocate to hunt. Orcas tend not to dive to these depths to find food. (Natacha Aguilar, Marine Mammal Science, July 2011)

Blainville's beaked whale. Illustration by Phil Coles.

Blainville’s beaked whale. Illustration by Phil Coles.

Most of the recent discoveries of new cetacean species involve animals with teeth. The one exception is the Omura’s whale (Balaenoptera omurai), first classified in 2003. This whale was previously thought to be a variant of the Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni). It is definitely a distinct species. This National Geographic story provides some great photos and information about this whale. Featured in the article is Dr. Salvatore Cerchio who was a panelist here at the NBWM two weeks ago when we aired the film, Sonic Sea.

Photo of Echovenator skull. Photograph by Jonathan Geisler.

Photo of Echovenator skull. Photograph by Jonathan Geisler.

Along with this new knowledge of existing species, fossil species are being discovered on a regular basis. Two species of dolphin, Echovenator sandersi, (Morgan Churchill, Current Biology, 2016)  and Isthminia panamensis (Nick Pyenson, PeerJ, September 2015) have been unearthed and described.

An important transitional species, from 27 million years ago, that had both baleen and teeth, Sitsqwayk cornishorum (Carlos Mauricio Peredo, Papers in Paleontology, July 2016) adds to our understanding of the evolution of baleen whales. Lastly, a re-examination of a fossil skeleton found 90 years ago, has led to the introduction of a new genus, Albicetus, (white whale), into the sperm whale family tree. This whale lived between 5.3 and 23 million years ago.