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Hand harpoons - Whales and Whaling pictures 26

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Whalemen's harpoons. Fig. 1. Improved harpoon or toggle-iron. Fig. 2, 3. First form of toggle-iron made by Lewis Temple Fig. 4. One-flued harpoon with hinged toggle. Fig. 5. One-flued harpoon Fig. 6. Two-flued harpoon Fig. 7. Toggle-iron invented by Provincetown whaleman.

One of the first things that strikes you (no pun intended) when learning about pre-industrial whale fisheries is how insubstantial the weaponry was that whalers used to attack, kill and flense their quarry. The job of the harpoon was to attach the whale to the whaling boat by a rope in order to tire the whale and also so that it didn't get away.

By comparison to the size of the whale, the harpoons seem almost Lilliputian, a bit like attacking a human with dining cutlery - forks and fish knives. The first harpoon designs were like large barbed arrows, but these would often pull out, so a variety of hinged harpoons with toggles that would swing out at 90° to the shaft once in place were devised. These were much more effective in their task and would pull out much less often.

Image courtesy NOAA


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