H69.219.4

19th century
Museum Purchase
H69.219.4


Harpoon. Description: 2 pronged whaling harpoon; iron; California From the History Information Stationi Object: Iron harpoon head from 19th century California. History: The heyday of the whaling industry was the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Whalers left their ships in row boats armed only with harpoons like this one and sharp lances. The harpoon was not intended to kill or disable the whale, but merely to fasten it to the boat. The whalers manuevered their small boat as close as possible to the whale, and the harpooner stood up and thrust his harpoon into its back. The heavy wooden shaft to which the harpoon head was attached fell away, leaving a runner of rope which secured the whale to the boat. The line and the boat filled with men impeded the whale's movements, so that it tired enough for the whalers to close in and kill it with their razor-sharp lances. Museum Purchase The Whale Trade The northern right whale (Eudalaena glacialis) was the most sought after whale along the Pacific Coast of North America. It was slow moving, non-belligerent and easily caught. From its blubber came oil used as fuel in lamps. From its long straight baleen, 19th century manufacturers made corset stays and hoops for crinoline skirts, umbrella ribs, knitting needles, and springs used in chairs. Whale products continued to be used well into the 20th century. From the baleen came elastic fiber, shoe horns, ash trays and fishing rods. From the vertebrae and blubber came oil, glycerin, antifreeze, glue, medicines, cosmetics and many other items both useful and frivolous. The last whaling station in California was at Pt. Richmond. It was shut down in 1971, when whales came under the protection of the Endangered Species Act. In 1972 the federal government passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Act made it illegal to "harass, hunt, capture or kill" any marine mammal. It also banned the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products, including scrimshaw.

Used: whaling | California

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