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Whale cannon harpoon

Date: 1947
Overall: 280 × 1861 × 280 mm
Medium: Metal
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Classification:Tools and equipment
Object Name: Harpoon
Object No: 00000686
Place Manufactured:Norge

User Terms

    This harpoon was designed for use in a whale cannon or harpoon gun. It was built by Kongsberg Vaabenfabrik in Norway in 1947. The barbed head of the harpoon had an explosive shell attached to it. When the harpoon struck the whale, the barbs opened out and smashed a glass phial of sulphuric acid which then set off the charge.
    SignificanceThis harpoon typifies the modern whaling industry and signifies the great technological change in the whaling industry in the 20th Century.
    HistoryBefore 1860, 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.

    The whaling harpoon cannon (gun) was first invented by the Norwegian sealer and whaler, Svend Foyn, in 1864. Foyn's first harpoon guns were extensively trialled in 1864 off the Finnmark coast, the northern-most part of Norway. By the mid-1880s, Foyn had perfected his cannon and harpoon and it has remained much the same today. The harpoon gun soon revolutionised the whaling industry and the prosperity of modern whaling began. Dangerous boat work was eliminated and the whale could be approached more quickly. Being mounted right in the bow meant the harpooner aimed from a steadier platform. Foyn's invention of the explosive harpoon led to the near-extinction of many species of whale that had previously been relatively safe from whalers. It was only after the invention of cannons mounted on steamships, which turned the hunt into an unequal slaughter, that people began to seriously question the right to the uncontrolled exploitation of these mammals.
    Additional Titles

    Assigned title: Whale cannon harpoon

    Web title: Whale cannon harpoon

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