The shell or exploding harpoon
Whales and Whaling pictures
Harpoon gun on the bow deck of a whale catcher boat.
The harpoon used for killing and catching baleen whales was (is) a formidable and heavy weapon. The harpoon itself is re-useable and consists of a long shaft that fits in the barrel that ends in four large hinged barbs. In front of the barbs is a large threaded boss onto which screws the a pointed (in this case) and explosive harpoon head. After use, the harpoon is recovered, straightened out and re-used with a new explosive head being fixed to the front. The shaft is not solid but has an open groove running it's whole length, a rope is fixed into this groove, when the harpoon is in the gun, the rope is slid to the front and here is seen hanging down ready for firing. The barbs of the harpoon are held back by wires which break when the harpoon has hit its target and the explosive charge detonates.
The harpoon itself is about 6 feet long (1.8m) and weighs 120lbs (54.5kg), it is made of high quality steel. The gun has a bore of 3in (76mm) and uses a charge of around 14oz (390g) of gunpowder.
The gun itself is quite a crude instrument, it can be swiveled easily by the gunner and tilted up and down, the sight is the long metal rod seen on top.
The real key to the effective use of this gun is the gunners skill and experience. Gunners were the top rank of all whale men, they were treated with the greatest respect and easily earned far more than any other rank in a whaling fleet. If a gunner didn't do his job properly, then the whole enterprise was a failure, if he did do his job properly it would mean success and riches for all, the majority of a gunners considerable pay was linked to how many whales he could catch.