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Harpoon shaft

Date: 19th century
Overall: 33 x 1753 x 36 mm, 1.9 kg
Medium: Wood
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Harpoon shaft
Object No: 00005620

User Terms

    During traditional whaling, the tip of a hand held harpoon separates from the shaft as it enters the whale. The harpoon shaft remains attached to the tip by a line which connects back to the whale boat.
    SignificanceThis harpoon shaft is an example of the types of handheld implements used in whaling during the 19th century.
    HistoryUntil the introduction of the harpoon gun in the 1860s, whaling was an extraordinarily dangerous occupation. Whales were hunted from small open boats by men often only armed with hand-held harpoons and killing lances. The hand-thrown harpoon (or iron) was used merely to attach the rope to the whale resulting in an angry, wounded whale. This would more often than not end with the whaleboat and its crew being towed by the whale in an effort to rid itself of the pain inflicted by the harpoon. This was referred to by American whalers at the 'Nantucket Sleighride'.

    For more than 200 years, whaling was a vital industry around the world. It was the source of many important products which could not be found or produced elsewhere at the time. It also provided tens of thousands of men and their families with a livelihood.

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