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Outboard Flensing a Blue Whale - Whales and Whaling pictures 59

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Outboard flensing was the only option for all but the smallest whales that could be hauled on board a whaling vessel before the slipway was invented to pull whales onto the factory ship for more efficient processing. As well as being an inefficient way of flensing the whale, this method was dangerous and extremely uncomfortable.

It was not unknown for the flensers to be knocked into the sea by a swell, by a snapped rope or other such mishap. Sometimes they would have to jump into the sea out of the way of such danger. The Antarctic ocean varies in temperature only 2 degrees either side of freezing point all year round and if rescue was not rapid. it could easily be fatal for the men overboard.

This account of the outboard flensing of a whale is taken from:
 Villiers, A. J. "Whaling in the Frozen South" 1925 - An account written by a journalist of the very first factory ship expedition to Antarctica by the Sir James Clark Ross in the 1923/24 season.

"But it is a dreadful job - a bitterly cold, greasy, trying job,  calling for an iron constitution and superhuman qualities of endurance and patience. Only tried and long experienced whalers can be flensers. The bodies of the whales heave and bob and jump in the swell so that it is very difficult for the inexperienced to even stand on them, without trying to wield skilfully and with great speed the long keen flensing knives. Big floes of old pack ice and broken pieces of Barrier ice drift around and bump into boats and whales. The icy water, so close, laps the bodies and coats them with ice. The freezing wind bites through the flensers' heavy clothes and chills them to the bone.

Their hands are bare. They can not even wear fingerless mitts, for they must have sure and steady hold of the greasy knives - one false sweep, one wild cut, might spell destruction for themselves or their mates. Frequently they must cease work for a moment, plunge the knife into the hot flesh, bathe their hands in the warm blood to bring life back to them, and hit their hands smartly on their shoulders. Often they swing their arms across their bodies, Norwegian fashion, to keep their circulation going.

Sawdust they find of great use in enabling them to hold onto the blubbery wooden handles. Despite all attempts to keep their circulation active frost bites are of frequent occurrence. Fingers are frozen white many times a day. When the flensers are down at their work their clothes and faces are encased in ice so that they must thaw themselves out when the come on deck."

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