Right whale bringing the head and whalebone aboard
Whales and Whaling pictures

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Right whales were valued for the large amounts of blubber and oil that they yielded and also for the baleen plates or "whalebone ". This is not bone at all, but made from a protein substance called keratin like other mammalian structures such as hair, skin, nail and horn.  

For a while at least, before being replaced with spring steel and later on plastic materials, the whale bone was very valuable and would be separated with the head to be brought on board the ship to be stripped and cleaned as soon as possible. If the whalebone was not obtained from the whale quickly, it would start to take on a characteristic unpleasant smell that could never really be got rid of.

Picture from an old postcard

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