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The Petrel, Wreck of a Whale Catcher - South Georgia

The Petrel is a whale catcher boat. These fast boats and their explosive harpoons in the bows were what started the industrial age of whaling. They made it possible to catch up with fast swimming large rorquals such as blue and fin whales, to harpoon them and then pump them with compressed air so they didn't sink.

The whole boat would function like a giant fishing rod and reel with the line running out when the whale was struck with on board mechanisms to take the strain and start winding the caught whale in.

Such boats were notoriously uncomfortable at sea and the work arduous and relentless. Needless to say the crews were the best paid of the whalers with the harpooner being the best paid of all as the success of the whole enterprise was based on his skill. The harpooner would usually be the captain of the whale catcher, he would get quickly from the bridge to the harpoon by way of a "flying bridge" (collapsed on this boat) a walkway that avoided the delay of going down on deck first.

While I am more than happy that whaling by such means is on the decline and doesn't take place to the extent that it did, I can't help but admire the men who put themselves at the forefront succeeding (or not) by their skill and wits in very arduous conditions.



These are pictures from a trip to Antarctica in the summer of 2010 - 2011 for the purpose of researching former whaling stations and companies by Ulf Gustafsson of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

Pictures copyright Ulf Gustafsson.


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