‘Right’ Whales

1 May

Do you know why ‘Right’ Whales are called Right?
It is because they fulfilled the economic necessities of whalers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Dundee for example, had flourished for years as one of Britain’s most important whaling ports. The port was one of many dependant on whaling. By the late 1800s the city had gone into a precipitous decline as supplies of whales from the North Atlantic practically run dry. New venues were needed to restore the prosperity of the city.
Sir James Clark Ross had led a famous expedition south in the 1840s and had reported many ‘Right’ whales in the Antarctic region. In an attempt to revitalise the industry, expeditions to the south were organised and
‘Right’whales were the target. The whales are about 50 feet long, move relatively slowly and, because of their blubber content, float on the surface of the sea when killed (this was an important aspect in the 1890s, because the whaleboats did not have equipment adapted to haul the massive creatures to the surface should they sink).The whales had (and have), enormous heads with baleen plates in their jaws – these plates are flexible filters of up to three meters, which, at that time were hugely saught after for fashion items such as umbrella spokes and womens’ corset stays. In addittion the blubber was rendered down for oil, the bones ground up and the meat eaten
A single whale could command an enormous price — two to three thousand pounds.
The near extinction of whales in the 1900s coupled with the cruelty of their slaughter galvanised the international community into Agreements to protect the creatures. As I have written before, the agreements are imperfectly adhered to by some countries, who hunt for ‘scientific purposes’.
But the whales survive. There was a lovely picture in ‘The Times’ the other day of a southern right whale joining in the fun, as a surfer road a wave in Hermanus near Capetown.

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