Whaling is the act of hunting for whales mainly for food, oil, and blubber… and is said to have been in practice long before “human civilization”. The earliest record of whaling is dated as far back as 300BC; however, different communities have undocumented histories of whaling. Ancient whaling was said to have affected the development of cultures such as the Japanese and Norwegian cultures. In the United States, whaling was believed to have started in New England. The earliest American whalers were the Native Americans who lived along the northeastern and northwestern coasts.
I remember in college I took an “Aboriginals Studies” class. At some point in the class, I think it was mid semester or something, we started looking at northern cultures and what whaling meant to them. I found it to be a very interesting class and the professor never forced any opinions on us, as it should have been. By the end of that lesson, which lasted about a week, it was very apparent that whaling was not only a big part of the aboriginal people’s culture but it was woven inside of the day to day life.
Just think what our life would be like today if we used crude oil minimally or not at all. I’d venture to say that the world as we know it now would be extremely different. You see, almost everything in our culture uses oil in some shape, fashion, or form. All plastic is made with oil. All motor vehicles use oil. The machines that we use to make stuff with need oil to run. The machines that the farmer uses to plow the fields and care for livestock need oil. As of present, crude oil is quite possibly the most valuable commodity on the planet. In contrast, whale oil, blubber, and meat had the same significance to the aboriginal people as oil does for us.
For people who live off the land, it is customary to only take, hunt, or kill what is necessary. Being excessive in this case only hinders them. Whaling wasn’t a serious problem until people started wanting more and more of the whale oil and meat… even though they didn’t need them. Whaling for commercial purposes started in the 17th century and available records show that the Basques people were the first to hunt whales for commercial purposes. The Basques not only emerged as the first to whale for commercial purpose, but they also dominated the industry for five centuries. In the 18th and 19th centuries, competitive national whaling emerged. According to reports, more than 50,000 whales were killed annually in the 1930s.
Whaling in American peaked in 1858 to all-time 199 ships, and declined to 167 just two years before the Civil War. By 1859, whaling in the US had dwindled to 51 vessels. The last four ports that sent out vessels at that time were Provincetown, New Bedford, Boston, and San Francisco.
Modern whaling techniques emerged in the 19th century due to increase in the demand for whale oil, also known as “Train Oil”. Subsequently, in the 20th century the demand for meat and margarine also increased commercial whaling activities. Nowadays, the modern commercial whaling is mainly for food. Unlike the early days, usage of whale products has been reduced and substituted with meat.
Due to the belief that commercial whaling can lead to the extinction of a whale species, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) put an end to commercial whaling so as to preserve the species and increase the whale stock. As time goes on, the fight to preserve whales gets harder and harder because whaling isn’t the only problem anymore. There is increased pollution in the waters, in the form of trash and sonar noise.