Azores whalers moving in to lance a sperm whale
Whales and Whaling pictures

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The harpoon has the job of attaching the whale to the boat and exhausting the whale. Eventually the whale is weakened and the whaling boat can be brought up close. Killing the whale is carried with a "lance" a razor sharp spade-tipped blade on the end of a long thin metal rod attached to a heavy wooden handle for momentum.

This is the most tense and dangerous part of the whale hunt as it's now up close and personal. If the whalers have gauged the whale correctly and this is the right moment, and if the man with the lance is skilled at his job, gets a good aim and a good shot, the whale will be dispatched quickly and safely.

If not, then the boat could at worst be wrecked and the men in the sea, one or more could be hit with the hugely powerful tail or mauled by the sperm whales huge jaw and teeth. Or the whale could be off again before the whole thing is repeated maybe minutes, maybe hours later.

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Picture used courtesy NOAA