Tag Archives: whale

“The Whale”, Philip Hoare

Thanks to guest blogger, whale enthusiast, and author Philip Hoare for submitting the following post and photographs. He has written numerous books, among them “Leviathan or, The Whale” (Harper Collins) , and the “The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea” (Ecco), just released.

The whale is perhaps the most mysterious animal known to man.  For centuries it inspired awe and fear, and was hunted for its oil, blubber and whalebone.  Now it is seen as a symbol of an ecological threat, a barometer for a world out of kilter.  It is even more remarkable that the transition from an age of whale-hunting to an era of whale-watching has happened within living memory.

Humpback off Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania

Ancient myth regarded the whale as an uncanny monster, a creature beyond comprehension.  A whale might swallow a single human being, such as Jonah, or an entire city, as one Greek myth imagined.  The poet William Blake wrote of a terrifying vision, ‘the head of Leviathan, his forehead was divided into streaks of green and purple like those on a tyger’s forehead…advancing towards us with all the fury of a spiritual existence’.

But ever since the early Basque fishermen travelled as far as the north-east coast of America to hunt whales, humans also saw these animals as a source of wealth.  When the Pilgrim Fathers sailed into Provincetown harbour in 1620, they saw  hundreds of whales ‘playing hard by us, of which in that place, if we had instruments and means to take them, we might have made a rich return’.  By the early 1800s, Provincetown was a profitable whaling port with a fleet of 70 ships, almost rivalling New Bedford – then the richest city in America, wealthy on whale oil – in what was, in effect, a New England version of a Texan oil boom.

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Read the latest issue of RIGHT WHALE NEWS in its entirety , now available from the NARWC blog. Main topics:

-Ocean Policy Task Force Hears About Right Whales

-North Atlanic Right Whale Population Size for 2008: 438

Reflections, Questions, and Concerns, Contributed By Monica Zani and Amy Knowlton, New England Aquarium

-North Atlantic Right Whale DNA Bank, Contributed by Sonia J. Seto, Trent University, Ontario, Canada

-Fishing Gear That Entangles Right Whales: Source Identification is an Issue, Contributed by Jamison    Smith, Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator, National Marine Fisheries Service, Gloucester, Massachusetts

2nd Annual Whale Naming: Millipede wins! Contributed by Philip Hamilton, New England Aquarium

Right Whale News is a publication of Associated Scientists at Woods Hole. It is disseminated on-line through the courtesy of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium. The editor is Jim Hain. The editorial board consists of Mark Dittrick, Tim Frasier, Robert Kenney, Scott Kraus, Bill McWeeny, Hans Neuhauser, Susan Parks, and Melissa Patrician. The copy editor is Julie Albert.

Current and back issues of Right Whale News published between 1994 and 2009 are available at the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium website, www.rightwhaleweb.org—select the Right Whale News tab.

New Exhibit: From Pursuit to Preservation

The New Bedford Whaling Museum announces the opening of an exciting new permanent exhibition, From Pursuit to Preservation: The History of Human Interaction with Whales, which explains and explores the human fascination with whales and the history of whaling in New Bedford in a global context.

A humpback whale caught at Icy Cape in August 1912 with the crew who made the strike.

A humpback whale caught at Icy Cape in August 1912 with the crew who made the strike.

This comprehensive multimedia presentation, developed with a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, ECHO (Education Through Cultural and Historical Organizations) funding, and the generous contributions of Museum supporters, forms a new focal point for visitors experiencing the Whaling Museum. From Pursuit to Preservation guides visitors through the story of humankind’s evolving relationship with whales, from the whale as a source of survival and symbolic power, through to its exploitation for commercial wealth, to the first gropings toward scientific inquiry and contemporary methods of observation and study.

Whalebone processing in the yard of Pacific Steam Whaling Company

Whalebone processing in the yard of Pacific Steam Whaling Company

From ancient times, people have used the meat, oil, and bone of whales as important resources for their communities. The whale’s importance to humans’ physical well-being often fostered a symbolic cultural connection, a relationship that took many forms throughout the centuries and continues to evolve in contemporary art, literature, and popular culture. In From Pursuit to Preservation, the Whaling Museum takes visitors on a journey across time and around the world, using many items from its vast collection including unique maritime artifacts and art, photographs and whale skeletons as well as a listening station, digital picture frames, and thought-provoking interpretive signs to involve visitors in the discovery of the symbolic, spiritual, and cultural connections we share with these majestic and increasingly endangered animals.


Floating-Factory Ship THORSHAMMER with whales along side, circa 1928

Humans’ complex relationship with whales is told from the early harvesting of beached whales to the development of watercraft and weapons specifically to pursue the animals at sea. Once demand grew, an industry was born to hunt and process whales for the oil that would light the world for three centuries and the baleen that was the plastic of that age. While the Dutch and English led the way in the creation of this industry, by the early 19th century, the United States, led by New Bedford, had the most productive whaling industry in the world. As the success of the industry began to threaten the survival of whales, new technologies made their oil less vital. And while whaling left New Bedford, the pursuit of whales continued in Europe and Asia at new levels of efficient slaughter hunting that enabled the harvest in one year to outstrip that of the previous decade in total. The move toward preserving whales came as humans hunters become so good at killing that international regulation was needed to keep whales from extermination.


National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration off the South Carolina coast working to free a young endangered right whale entangled in ropes and buoys

Visitors to the New Bedford Whaling Museum experience come away with a new concept of the power of the whale in the human imagination — representing nature’s power, the lure of the unknown, a monstrous foe, and a once abundant resource. And the Whaling Museum exhibition also creates a bridge of understanding about how the whale has come now to symbolize our emerging understanding of our place in the natural world and how profound our impact upon it can be. Our hunt now is for knowledge: the better to apply the lessons of the past to the challenges of the future.

The exhibition was designed by The PRD Group, Ltd. of Chantilly, Virginia, and fabricated by Color-Ad, of Manassas, Virginia. The Museum is grateful for their enthusiasm, hard work, and dedication to the quality of the finished product.

Member’s Preview and Curator’s Tour:
Thursday July 2, 2009 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Open to NBWM Members only
RSVP to 508-997-0046 ext. 188

To view photos of the installation visit our Flickr site.

Iñupiaq Whale Hunt

This video, adapted from material provided by the ECHO (Education through Cultural & Historical Organizations) partners, provides great insight into the lives of contemporary subsistence whalers.  Check it out.

whale hunt

In Search of the Mysterious Narwhal

Great article, In Search of the Mysterious Narwhal, by Abigail Tucker, Smithsonian magazine, May 2009:

“Ballerina turned biologist Kristin Laidre gives her all to study the elusive, deep-diving, ice-loving whale known as the ‘unicorn of the sea’.”


Flip Nicklin / Minden Pictures

And then come see a Narwhal Tusk on display in New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Classic Whaling Prints exhibit.

The Narwhal or Sea Unicorn

This engraving from the collection of the New Bedford WhalingMuseum:

Number: 1958.1.21.S
Geo/Culture: Europe –British
Object: print
Title: The Narwhal or Sea Unicorn / F. Cuvier – Plate 11
Artist/Maker: Stewart, James –Lizars, William Home
Date: 1837
Material: engraving, paper
Dimensions: [H]4 1/4″ [W]6 9/16″
Description: A partially colored engraving paper, engraved by William Home Lizars (1788-1859), showing two narwhal on shore, cliffs and birds to right, two birds to left, rocky cliffs in background.

“What Obama Might Have Learned from Moby-Dick”

"Sperm Whale Mural", detail

detail of "Sperm Whale Mural", painted by Richard Ellis

A great article “What Obama Might Have Learned from Moby-Dick”, written by Wyn Kelley, a Melville scholar.

After September 11, 2001, some commentators wondered if Melville’s phrases in the opening of Moby-Dick prophesied a twenty-first-century war in Afghanistan. This year, as we observe a new inauguration, his words about an election for the presidency might seem strangely apt as well. Few have considered, however, whether “WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL” matters to the government of the United States.

Now, apparently, it does. According to a statement on his homepage at Facebook, as well as in various interviews and profiles, incoming president Barack Obama’s favorite books are Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. What does this information suggest about our new president? Continue reading