Factory ship, the Jan Wellem
Whales and Whaling pictures

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The re-fitting of the Jan Wellem, whaling factory ship

The invention of the exploding harpoon fired from a heavy gun meant that catching the fast swimming baleen whales was not only possible, but possible in huge quantities. In the 1923/24 season, the very first "Factory Ship" the Sir James Clark Ross was used in Antarctica and though this first expedition was not a great financial success in itself, it taught the whalers a great many valuable lessons about how to go about the task of catching and processing great numbers of whales in a short period of time - the Antarctic summer.

Before long many similar factory ships had been built and industrial whaling in the Antarctic was earning great amounts of money at the expense of the unfortunate whales. Kitting out such an expedition was a hugely expensive undertaking however, requiring a factory ship of usually at least 20,000 tons and a small fleet of 5 or more catcher boats to keep the factory busy and supplied with whales to process. Nevertheless it was expected that the initial capital outlay for such a factory ship and catcher boats could be recouped in the first season. From there on it was all profit other than consumable items such as harpoons and in particular rope, which surprisingly perhaps was a major expense.

Here a relatively small German ship, the 11,770 tonne Jan Wellem is seen being re-fitted as a factory ship for whaling. It was first used for whaling in the 1936/37 season.

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