Whale Products

The financial lure of whaling may be understood when one considers the market value of a single whale in past years. Every part of the massive carcass was used, though some for little more than frivolous luxuries. It is a popular and mainly true conservationist argument that today almost any whale product may be replaced by an equivalent which does not involve killing animals. Not all the alternatives, however, have the same properties as the original whale products. In previous centuries there was much less choice, and whale products were highly valued.

Baleen Whale Products

Baleen whales such as the right whale, favourite quarry of the early whalers, provided meat and oil suitable for human consumption. Baleen whale oil was used in the manufacture of margarine and cooking oils. Russians did, and the Japanese still do, eat whale meat in large quantities. It was also incorporated into pet foods, but this was stopped after international outcry.

In the old days the baleen plates (whalebone) from the mouth of the whale (formed from keratin like our hair and fingernails) were quite valuable. They were widely used in ladies' corsetry providing the unnatural, rigidly-constricted shape of the bodice of ladies' dresses in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Whalebone also made spokes for the ladies' parasols. The fibre from the baleen plates was used for padding of all kinds.

Above: Advertisement for Ladies Corsetry



Above: Whale Oil Soap


Sperm Whale Products

The products of a sperm whale had a wide variety of uses. Spermaceti, the waxy material that fills most of the whale's bulbous head, was used for candles; soap; polish' cosmetic creams' and medical ointments.

In the old days, Sperm oil was particularly used for fuelling domestic oil lamps as it burns cleanly and without odour, until mineral oils and coal gas took over in the last century.

This century, sperm oil became very important in industry. It was most valued as an excellent lubricant which maintains its viscosity characteristics through a greater temperature range, and under greater pressure, than any mineral oil. It was therefore ideal for automotive transmission fluids, and as an aircraft engine oil, for it resists freezing well. The nearest substitute for sperm oil is jojoba oil, produced from the seeds of a shrub originating in the Sonora Desert in Mexico; but this cannot yet be produced in competitive commercial quantities.

Sperm oil, being very fine and free of mineral impurities, is excellent as a lubricant and antioxidant (rust preventative) for jewellery, watches and clock mechanisms, It was used for tanning fine leather and in detergents and dyes for the woollen and textile industries. It was also used in some cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.

The meat of the sperm whale is stronger than that of the baleen whales and not generally suitable for human consumption. Instead it was processed into whalemeal and used as a stock feed additive.

Ambergris is produced in the hindgut of the sperm whale which is a black, semi-viscous liquid which forms around the indigestible squid beaks. On exposure to sunlight and air, it quickly oxidizes and hardens to a pleasantly aromatic, marbled, grayish, waxy substance in which the squid beaks are still embedded.

When warmed it produces a very pleasant, mild, sweet, earthy aroma. From ancient times it has been used in the West as a fixative for rare perfumes since it has the effect of making other perfumes last much longer than they would. It is said that a single drop of ambergris applied to a paper and placed in a book will remain fragrant after 40 years and that once handled, the fingers will smell of it even after several days and several washings.

Usage of Ambergris has been known in many parts of the world as follows: Ambergris was known to Arabs as 'anbar' and was originally called amber in the West. It was used as medicine for the heart and brain. The Arabs believed that raw ambergris emanated from springs near the sea. Ancient Chinese referred to ambergris as lung sien hiang, 'dragon's spittle perfume,' because it was thought that it originated from the drooling of dragons sleeping on rocks at the edge of the sea. It is still known by this name and is used as an aphrodisiac and as a spice for food and wine. The Japanese have also known ambergris from ancient times and called it kunsurano fuu, 'whale droppings.' It was used to fix floral fragrances in perfumes. In addition to the common usage of making expensive perfumery, it has been used in the flavoring of dried fruit and tobacco.

Above: New Zealand Koteata Club (made from whale bone)

Above: Sperm Whale Teeth used for decoration

Above: Ambergris pellets


Sperm Whale Teeth

The teeth of the sperm whale, known as sea ivory, were the raw material for ornamental carvings and for the traditional seafaring art of scrimshaw - tooth engraving. The clean tooth was polished and the design then etched in ink for emphasis.


Scrimshaw is thought to have originated in America, first practiced by sailors working on whaling ships out of New England. Sailors could be at sea for many months at a time, they needed a hobby to pass thier time away, the art of Scrimshaw was born. The word Scrimshaw is a slang expression used to refer to anything that was a product of a seaman's idle time.


Many Utensils were carved out of Sea Ivory

The Scrimshaw piece lying on the bottom was carved by Ches Stubbs

Different variations of Scrimshaw - a Seal


An Asian Stature Carving



This fine piece of scrimshaw was given to Jack Davies by Ches Stubbs as a symbol of their friendship. Ches scrimshawed the Sperm Whale tooth for Jack Davies, the words inscribed on the right hand picture say: "Jack an Old Friend from Dot and Ches. by C Stubbs Albany"





The polished and mounted Whale Tooth


The mounted Penguin Scrimshaw piece


Alexander Summers

Engineer 1962 - 1967

Alexander was born in Scotland and came to Australia in 1952 where he worked for a time with the Australian Whaling Commission in Carnarvon. One of the boats was based in Rockingham. He then whaled for nine months with the Salveson Line on the "Southern Harvester" at South Georgia in the Antarctic. He came to work for Cheynes Beach Whaling Company in 1962 as an Engineer on the "Minilya".

Alexander was quite artistic and was a very good Scrimshaw artist, carving some impressive pieces. One a penguin mounted on a plastic base and another is a polished whale's tooth mounted on to a piece of jarrah. He worked on these on his long trips to South Georgia.


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