Tag Archives: Baleen Plates

‘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.


21 Nov

Britain is no longer a whaling nation but whaling made a significant contribution to its economy over many centuries. In the late nineteenth century the favoured whale, the most commercial ‘right’ whale, had been culled to near extinction in the North Atlantic and whaling expeditions from Dundee went south in search of these whales; they were fortunately unsuccessful and the industry declined. Hunters called the whales they were searching for ‘right’ whales because the whales swam slowly (and so were easy to catch) and floated when killed because of their large amount of blubber (which was rendered to tons of oil). Additionally their heads, one third of the whales’ length, contained long cartilaginous combs, Baleen plates, which filtered their food. These combs were much in demand commercially for use; corsets and umbrella spokes. The absence of Baleen plates may have influenced the fashion industry in the decline of the popularity of corsets!! Electricity made whale oil redundant for lighting.
The International Whaling Commission of 1946 was a global body designed to conserve and manage whaling. There were 88 member governments who were all signatories to the

Convention, which aimed to regulate whaling internationally. A moratorium on whale hunting of 1949 gave complete protection to the ‘right’ whale and the South African population of these whales is believed to have grown from 100 to 1,000 animals. However the northern ‘right’ whales remain at risk with only several hundred animals counted. This number does not appear to have increased in the decades since the moratorium. Is this because the females do not become sexually mature until the age of ten and give birth to a single calf after a years gestation? Additionally whilst they are not hunted by man, they remain at risk from Orcas whales that hunt in packs.

Loopholes in the convention mean that Japan, Norway and Iceland continue to hunt whales under the provision of ‘scientific’ reasons. Japan, which resists the Convention strongly, along with Norway and Iceland, have politically influential whaling industries and kill about 2,000 whales per year

Whales remain vulnerable and this will continue until all loopholes are closed. This can only happen by agreement with the dissenting nations when the industries are compensated. The commercial value of whale watching could be further developed.