Lancing a whale
Whales and whaling pictures

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Whaling from open boats was a dangerous business and at no time more dangerous than when the boat went in for the kill. When the whale had been exhausted by harpoons - possibly several being thrown into it, and after having dragged the whaling boat for several minutes or more, the boat would close in for the "lancing".

This was the actual killing of the whale and was a highly skilled job carried out by the mate of the whaling boat rather than the harpooner. The lance used was a long wooden handle with a blade on the end shaped like a diamond at the end of a narrow metal pole to enable the lance to be sunk deep into the whales heart and lungs and then churned about to cause as much ultimately fatal damage as possible. The whale would then spout blood showing the damage to its lungs and indicating that it would soon die, the whalers would say the whales "chimney was afire".

. To do this required the boat to get right next to a wounded and angry beast of some 40-60 tonnes or more, if it was not accomplished quickly and correctly, the consequences could be disastrous for the crew of the whaling boat.

If the crew were lucky and gauged it correctly, the whale would be exhausted and could be dispatched quickly and easily, if not, then it could have enough energy left for a final flurry destroying the whale boat and possible taking several men with it. In this illustration two whaling boats are closing on the whale with the remains of a third smashed boat surrounding it in the water.

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Picture used courtesy NOAA