Specialist Whaling Equipment

The modern harpoon cannon was devised by the Norwegian Sven Foyn from Tønsberg. This device enabled the whalers to shoot the largest rorquals which previously could not be caught, this cannon was mounted on the forecastle of a steam powered vessel. This vessel could eventually outrun these whales and the type of harpoon which the cannon fired had an explosive warhead which exploded after it entered the whale. In addition there are four large barbs on this harpoon which expanded thereby holding the whale fast. The effect that the warhead had was to sufficiently injure or kill the whale. Click here to see a detailed diagram of a Harpoon Gun.

The harpoon had a central slot running the length of the shaft to which the whaleline was fastened. This in turn was passed under the forecastle up over the mast supported by blocks then downwards to the winch which was specially designed to handle the whaleline, this winch was operated by an engineer. (Like an angler playing a fish) However the mast did not bend like a fishing rod as the tension exerted by the whale pulling on the whaleline was taken up by special accumulator springs housed below decks.

The upper block on the mast was fastened to the accumulator springs which in turn was fastened to the lower block which carried the whale line and as the engineer operated the winch he could see the amount of tension exerted on the lower block and could release more whaleline to reduce the tension (again like an angler playing a fish on his rod) but with out any distortion to the mast. Above the blocks on the mast a barrel was mounted where a seaman could observe the position of the whale in the sea and advise the gunner on the forecastle where it was about to surface. The man in the barrel was also in direct communication with the helmsman on the bridge, this was very much so a coordinated operation. Click here to see a detailed diagram of a Whaleline.

The majority of modern whale catchers were steam driven as this is much quieter than a diesel engine so less alarm was transmitted to the whale. After the second world war, with the invention of asdic (echo sounder) this device was used to track the whales thereby speeding up the hunt. Aircraft and helicopters were also utilised after the second world war to assist in the location of whales but these methods were only partially successful.

The floating factory ships also had highly specialised equipment to deal with the processing of the whales for instance the installation of stern slipways which enabled the whale to be brought onboard for processing. To pull the immense weight of the whale onto the vessel required a purpose designed claw which operated on the same principal as scissors, (the greater the weight of the whale the tighter the clamp would be on the whales flukes) which in turn had a heavy steel hawser connected to a very powerful winch amidship's. As the whale was being pulled aboard flensers (butchers) made long incisions in the blubber and smaller winches pulled the blubber off, almost like peeling a banana but on a much grander scale, this in turn was cut up into sizable pieces which were fed into press boilers located below deck where the blubber was rendered into oil through the application of pressurized steam.

The remainder of the carcass was pulled onto the foredeck where the lemmers (butchers) dismembered the remaining parts of the whale which in turn were pressure cooked to extract the last vestiges of oil from the meat and bone. A steam operated saw with a blade fifteen feet long was used to cut the spine into sizable pieces before it was feed into the press boilers below deck. The residue from this cooking was dried and turned into meat meal and meat extract. This meat meal was used for cattle feed and the meat extract was used for human consumption. In addition the liver was broken down to produce liver oil for medicinal purposes and in effect the only part of the whale which was not used were the intestines which were dumped overboard.

As the name implies a factory ship was a vessel which was completely equipped to render a whale down to its specific products, this could be completed in approximately twenty minutes. This was only possible due to the invention of equipment some by Norwegians to process the whale as quickly and efficiently as possible with minimum waste and maximum output. However the cooking of the meat and bones took considerably longer. The factory ship was able to hold vast quantities of whale oil and fuel oil which was removed from time to time by tanker ships which took of the whale oil and also replenished the fuel oil for the fleet. The factory ship supplied fuel and provisions to fourteen catcher ships attached to it for the duration of the whaling season, which could last four months, so this can give you some indication of the scale of the operation carried out by these factory ships.

Stern Slipway Whale Flensing Southern Harvester Factory Ship Harpoon Gun Blocks Winch Claw Two Factory Ships Berthed Together (very unusual sight) Sister Ships Southern Venturer And Southern Harvester At Gladstone Dock, Liverpool Whale Catcher With Two Whales Home Page