Canada Hall

A Whaling Station


Whales were hunted in small lightweight rowboats called chalupas. Wooden floats attached to the harpoon line acted as a drag to exhaust them and prevent them from diving below the surface. The whales were killed with a louchet, or killing lance, which was driven into the heart, located behind the pectoral fin. Because they were struck repeatedly, there was a severe loss of blood.

Basque whalers recited this prayer at the moment of harpooning:

    ... Allow us, Mighty Lord, to quickly kill the great fish of sea; without injuring any one of us when he is bound by the line in his tail or his breast; without tossing the boat's keel skyward, or pulling us with him to the depths of the sea... The profit is great, the peril is also great; guard above all our lives.

  1. Harpoon, Basque, 16th century (Newfoundland Museum).
  2. Lance.
  3. Louchet, for stabbing whales.
  4. Drogues, or floats, for harpoon lines.
  5. Striking and killing a whale at Spitsbergen, Norway, 18th century (National Archives of Canada).
  6. Towing in the whale at Spitsbergen, Norway, 18th century (National Archives of Canada).
  7. 18th century images of Basque whalers (Duhamel de Monceau, Traité général des pêches).

Why whaling? The whale hunt supplied Europe with much needed products for industrial and personal use. Europeans used millions of gallons of whale oil for lamp fuel and lubrication. Whale oil was a basic element of paint, varnish and soap. Baleen -- a flexible, strong material from whales' mouths -- was used in clothing and furnishings. To supply these markets, the Basques killed thousands of whales.

CMCC S93-14807
  1. Tub, half-barrica, Basque, 16th century (Canadian Parks Service).
  2. Hook for carrying blubber.
  3. Mincing knife, Basque, 16th century (Newfoundland Museum).
  4. Spade, for cutting blubber.
  5. Gaff, Basque, 16th century (Newfoundland Museum).
  6. Baleen axe.
  7. Crusie lamps, 18th century.
  8. Lamp, Basque, 16th century (Newfoundland Museum).
  9. Whale oil was used in rope making (Amman and Sachs, The Book of Trades).
  10. Remains of tryworks at Red Bay (Canadian Parks Service).
  11. Tryworks, 17th or 18th century (Duhamel de Monceau, Traité général des pêches).

A typical whaling ship carried 1,250 barrels containing the oil of about twenty-five whales. These barricas were floated out to the ship and loaded into the hold. Barrel-making was an essential activity of every whaling expedition. Coopers assembled the barrels for shipping oil and also made or repaired other containers. Those activities made them key members of a whaling crew. Ships' stores included previously used barrel staves and head pieces as well as split willow and alder for making the hoops.

  1. Quintal, a small cask, for supplies (Canadian Parks Service).
  2. Diagonals: used to select the location of croze grooves (Newfoundland Museum).
  3. Adze: used to trim staves and bevel edges (Newfoundland Museum).
  4. Gimlet: drilled small holes for the reinforcing pegs and air vents (Newfoundland Museum).
  5. Cask hook, or cooper's vise: screwed into the cask head and used as a handle to place the head in the cask (Newfoundland Museum).
  6. Drawknife: used to bevel edges of cask heads and smooth the inside of the hoops; perhaps also used to clean baleen (Newfoundland Museum).
  7. Croze: used to cut the grooves on the inside of the cask ends into which the heads were fitted (Newfoundland Museum).
  8. Hooping dog: levered the hoops over the ends of the staves (Newfoundland Museum).