Sperm Whale, Greenland Whale Fishery
Whales and Whaling Pictures

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In the days before photography and mass media, pictures of whales were rare and while based in reality often fanciful. This example from the early 1800's shows a sperm whale from the "Greenland Fishery". While much more accurate than many early illustrations, there is still a great deal of artistic license or just plain inaccuracy. The shape is good and proportions reasonable (it's too "tall" though), but the lower jaw is too deep and the expression rather anthropomorphic. Strangest of all is how these 4 men have managed to drag a 60+ tonne whale (estimated from the proportions and size of the men) onto an ice floe.

Such pictures fed the public perception of whales and whaling. If you want to be particularly critical, you could say that they sanitized the whale fishery and made it seem far more benign and clean than it really was.

    The Greenland Whale Fishery - folksong
    this version 1906, there are many versions that differ in details and order of verses

    'Twas eighteen hundred and twenty four,
    On March the eighteenth day,
    We hoist our colours to the top of the mast,
    And to Greenland bore away, brave boys,
    And to Greenland bore away.

    Oh, the look-out up on the mainmast stood
    With a spy-glass in his hand.
    'There's a whale, there's a whale, and a whale-fish,' he cried.
    And she blows at every span, brave boys,
    And she blows at every span.'

    The captain stood on the quarterdeck,
    And the ice was in his eye.
    'Overhaul, overhaul, let your jib-sheet fall,
    And put your boats to sea, brave boys,
    And put your boats to sea!'

    Oh, the boats got down and the men aboard,
    And the whale was full in view.
    Resolved, resolved was each whalerman bold
    To steer where the whale-fish blew, brave boys,
    To steer where the whale-fish blew.

    Now the harpoon struck and the lines played out,
    But she gave such a flourish with her tail,
    She capsized our boat and we lost five men,
    And we could not catch that whale, brave boys,
    And we could not catch that whale.

    Oh, the losing of that sperm-whale fish
    It grieved our captain sore,
    But the losing of those five jolly tars,
    Oh, it grieved him ten times more, brave boys,
    Oh, it grieved him ten times more.

    'Up anchor now,' the captain cried,
    'For the winter's star do appear,
    It is time for to leave this cold country,
    And for England we will steer, brave boys,
    And for England we will steer.'

    Oh, Greenland is a barren place,
    It's a place that bears no green,
    Where there's ice and snow, and the whale-
    And the daylight's seldom seen, brave boys,
    And the daylight's seldom seen.


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