It comes as no surprise that millions have been hooked on the whaling song ‘The Wellerman’. The tune is bouncy and the lyrics have a quaint charm: “Soon may the wellerman come/ To bring us sugar and tea and rum/ One day, when the tonguin’ is done/ We’ll take our leave and go”. But behind this viral song dating back to the 19th century lies the savage and bloody world of whaling.

Just how savage and bloody can be seen in the following pictures. Be forwarned: the last two images may offend some readers’ sensibilities.

The killing tools

Implements belonging to a whale boat
Illustration from the 1874 book ‘The Marine Mammals of the North-western Coast of North American, Described and Illustrated Together with an Account of the American Whale-Fishery’, by Captain Charles M. Scammon

Harpoon mounted on a whaling boat, Alaska, c. 1915
Photo credit: University of Washington, John N. Cobb Photograph Collection

Head-strap
Illustration from the 1874 book, “The Marine Mammals of the North-Western Coast of North America Described and Illustrated Together with an Account of the American Whale-Fishery”

Cutting-In Tackle
Photo credit: University of Washington, Freshwater and Marine Image Bank

Thrill of the hunt

Whalers aboard killer boat firing a harpoon, Alaska, c. 1915
Photo credit: University of Washington, John N. Cobb Photograph Collection

Whaling Rockets
Photo credit: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center
NOTE: As far back as 1821, sailors hunted whales using rocket-propelled harpoons. These rocket harpoons were launched from a shoulder-held tube equipped with a circular black shield.

Learn more in this article about how 19th-century American whalers hunted and killed whales:

Ships, Outfits, and Manner of Taking the Whale

 

 

Slaughter and butchery

Untitled, 1947
Photo credit: Nationaal Archief (the Dutch National Archives)

Whaling, Splitting the Case, c. 1884-1917
Photo credit: Kerry and Co, Sydney, Australia; part of Powerhouse Museum collection

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