Member only
Episode
144

Whaling

Mar 26, 2021
History
-
18
minutes
Environment
Animals
Consumption
USA
Weird history

It has been called the "bloodiest business in history", and cost the lives of 3 million whales.

In today's episode, we take a look at the amazing history of whaling, from how it really worked to the reasons it went on for so long.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Whaling, the hunting and killing of whales.

[00:00:30] It is one of the bloodiest businesses in history, and an example of how mankind almost eradicated an entire species from the face of the earth.

[00:00:42] It’s also a fascinating story, and in a strange way, it enabled a lot of the conveniences of modern society. 

[00:00:51] So I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:00:54] Before we get right into that though, let me just quickly remind you that you can listen along with the subtitles, an interactive transcript complete with key vocabulary, for this episode and all of our other 150 or so over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com

[00:01:13] The website is also home to our community, where members do meetups and conversation practice, as well as tonnes of guides on improving your English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:24] So, if you haven't checked that out, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:31] OK then, whaling.

[00:01:34] It has been called the greatest wildlife exploitation in human history, with an estimated 3 million whales killed in the twentieth century alone. 

[00:01:46] Several whale species were hunted to the brink of extinction, they were nearly wiped out completely, and almost no stretch of the ocean was spared from the whale hunters’ boats and their deadly harpoons.

[00:02:02] While whale hunting peaked in relatively recent history, the hunting and killing of whales by humans is not new.

[00:02:13] Indeed, whaling goes back almost 5,000 years, and there is a long history of coastal communities all over the world, from Norway to Japan, Korea to the Native North Americans, hunting whales.

[00:02:29] This, of course, makes sense. 

[00:02:32] Whales are pretty large animals, they are relatively easy to hunt, because they are quite friendly and you can get quite close to them in a boat and they have a very large surface area, and if you manage to kill one whale, well then that is lunch for quite a long time.

[00:02:52] Almost every part of the whale would be used. 

[00:02:55] The fat, called ‘blubber’, the meat, the internal organs, it was all an excellent source of protein. 

[00:03:04] The bones would often be used to make tools, and the baleen, the sort of nail-like material in a whale’s mouth, was often used for making baskets or even for making roofs for your house.

[00:03:21] So, killing whales made a huge amount of sense, especially for communities in places like the north east coast of America, near the Arctic Circle, where farming animals just wasn’t feasible, you couldn't easily do it.

[00:03:37] Different communities in different countries would hunt the whales in different ways. Sometimes the whales would be chased onto the beaches by boats, the boats would form a line and drive the whales towards the land, onto the beach, where they would get stuck, and then be killed by the hunters.

[00:03:58] Another early way was by approaching a whale out at sea, sticking a harpoon into it, which is a sort of knife with a hook on. 

[00:04:09] The whale would, understandably, swim away fast when it was attacked, but attached to the harpoon would be a long rope, and on the end of that rope, would be something that would float and slow the whale down. 

[00:04:26] Eventually the whale would tire, it would become exhausted, and the hunters would be able to kill it.

[00:04:33] Neither of these outcomes were great if you were a whale, but the good news for the whale population overall was that these activities weren’t done en masse, they were done by small coastal communities to provide food for themselves.

[00:04:51] But, that wasn’t to continue forever.

[00:04:55] During the Middle Ages and Renaissance period in Europe, the demand for whale products started to increase. 

[00:05:04] You could make oil from whale fat, which could be used for candles

[00:05:10] As people needed to do more things that required light, such as reading, whales started to be hunted not just to support small communities by the sea, but also to be sold on for a profit.

[00:05:26] Then as Europeans sailed across The Atlantic to America, they took their love for whale products with them, and America soon became the world capital for whaling.

[00:05:41] The method for actually capturing the whales hadn’t changed a huge amount though - it was still relatively basic. 

[00:05:49] One of the main differences was that, instead of just setting off from the shore, there would be larger boats that would set off on voyages for months or even years at a time.

[00:06:04] And it was from these larger boats that the smaller boats would be launched, off to search for their prey.

[00:06:13] There’s an account from an early 19th century whale hunt that describes 21 men on one of these small boats, that was only 7.5 metres long. 

[00:06:25] Now, I should warn you that this will be a little bit graphic, a bit bloody, so skip forward a couple of minutes if you don’t want to listen to an account of a whale hunt.

[00:06:38] The small boat would get as close as possible to the whale. When it was close enough, a hunter on the boat would throw a harpoon at the whale’s body.

[00:06:50] But this time, instead of the harpoon being attached to an object that it would drag after it, it was attached to the boat.

[00:07:00] When the whale was hit, it would swim away as fast as it could, dragging the boat with it. 

[00:07:06] The boat would be pulled along at breakneck speeds, often with men being thrown aboard into the ice-cold water as the boat bumped up and down over the waves.

[00:07:19] Eventually, the whale would tire, the men would be able to approach it and they would cut open a main artery, and a huge fountain of blood would pour out, covering the men on the boat.

[00:07:35] They would then tow the dead whale back to the main boat, drag it onboard, and proceed to cut it up into small pieces, and boil them in pots to create the precious whale oil.

[00:07:51] After having repeated this 40 or 50 times, with 40 or 50 different whales, the ship would return to shore, where they would sell the whale oil, and all the other remaining parts of the whale, for a large profit.

[00:08:08] Although some of you might be hearing this and thinking “how disgusting - I can’t believe people actually did this”, one can imagine how, to these men who spent their entire lives hunting, killing, and then cutting whales into small pieces, that whales weren’t majestic creatures of the sea, they were considered just products to take from the ocean and process

[00:08:35] Indeed, there is a report of a whale hunter describing a whale as “a self-propelled tub of high-income lard”, lard is a type of fat. 

[00:08:48] So to these men, a whale was a big lump of swimming money, and it was their job to take it from the sea and turn it into products that could be sold.

[00:09:02] And whale hunting had become an incredibly profitable, big business - indeed by the year 1850 it had become the fifth largest industry in the United States.

[00:09:17] The industrial revolution had meant that there was a huge increase in demand for lighting, and whale oil was one of the most effective products there was to produce light. 

[00:09:30] It was also an excellent lubricant, and so was used for industrial machinery, as well as for explosives, and even soap.

[00:09:42] It wasn’t just whale oil, though.

[00:09:45] Whale bones were used for corsets, the tightly fitting piece that women would wear under their clothes to compress their body and make them look thinner.

[00:09:56] And whale bones were also used for umbrellas and to make pieces for board games.

[00:10:03] There’s even a substance called Ambergris that comes from the intestines of a type of whale called a sperm whale that is used to make perfume, and is incredibly expensive.

[00:10:17] This heightened demand for whale products led to more and more men heading out to sea, and to the untimely end of more and more whales.

[00:10:29] And although the sea might have looked never-ending, the whale population wasn’t infinite

[00:10:37] As more and more whales were killed, they became harder and harder to find, and the hunters had to go further and further afield.

[00:10:47] Whaling boats went all the way up to the Arctic Ocean, and all the way down to the Antarctic Ocean on the hunt for their prey.

[00:10:58] At the same time, technological advances were making life even more hazardous for the whales. 

[00:11:05] The boats were faster, and the harpoons could now be fired from a gun, rather than just by hand. 

[00:11:14] As you might imagine, this led to a huge increase in the number of whales killed.

[00:11:21] Scientists estimate that around 300,000 sperm whales were killed during the 200 years between 1700 and 1900. 

[00:11:33] Then it took just another 60 years for whalers to kill the next 300,000.

[00:11:40] The thing that a lot of people don’t realise is that, even though there were plenty of other whale-alternative products by the mid 1850s–so using kerosene instead of whale oil for lighting, for example–these new technological advances had made whale hunting so much easier, and it continued well into the 20th century.

[00:12:08] The whale populations were reducing dramatically, so much so that in 1927 the League of Nations held a conference on whaling. 

[00:12:20] Gradually quotas were introduced, limits on how many whales could be killed commercially, and from the 1960s the number of whales killed every year has been decreasing.

[00:12:34] Still, whales are hunted by 9 different countries, albeit now for ‘cultural’ or ‘scientific’ purposes, commercial whaling, the hunting of whales to sell for a profit, has been banned since 1986.

[00:12:50] And while whales now might not have to be fearful of large, commercial ships coming to launch large harpoons into them and turn them into soap, life as a whale isn’t completely without its threats.

[00:13:07] They are often caught in fishing nets, and it’s estimated that, over the course of a lifetime, 80% of whales in the North Atlantic Ocean are caught in a fishing net at least once.

[00:13:20] Loud noises, from the sounds of ship engines, to the sounds produced by underwater drills are very disconcerting for whales, they confuse them, and they can damage their hearing.

[00:13:35] And whales are killed in large numbers every year just by being hit by ships. 

[00:13:42] Indeed, the WWF, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature reports that, for a particular type of whale called the northern right whale, 90% of the ones that are killed by humans are killed after being hit by ships.

[00:14:00] It’s not all bad news for whales though.

[00:14:04] Although it’s hard to measure the population of different types of whales, scientists do believe that the numbers are increasing, with the populations of some types of whale almost approaching the numbers pre-whaling. 

[00:14:21] And when it comes to how we view whaling now, it is easy to look back at it with a combination of amazement and disgust, wondering how we could be so cruel to a creature that is now almost universally admired, and we know is actually pretty intelligent.

[00:14:42] But, as often seems to be a theme with this show, we can’t evaluate the past with the same criteria as we evaluate the present. 

[00:14:52] We are also great beneficiaries, albeit indirectly, of the whaling industry.

[00:14:58] The reality is that whaling, and the products that came from the bodies of these millions of whales, powered much of life in Europe and the United States in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. 

[00:15:13] Without a cheap source of light, without a cheap way to power industrial machines, or a way to produce soap, how would the world we live in today be different?

[00:15:26] While that is an interesting question, perhaps an even more interesting question is, in 200 or 300 years, what will people consider to be today’s equivalent of the whale? 

[00:15:39] What is something that we do now that is widely accepted, but might be considered cruel, destructive and highly unnecessary in 300 years time?

[00:15:51] And on that positive note, that is it for today’s episode on Whaling.

[00:15:57] I hope it’s been an interesting one, that you’ve learned something new, and that you now know, if you didn’t already, that we have quite a lot to be thankful to whales for.

[00:16:08] If you are looking for a more upbeat, a more positive episode about whales, then I’d definitely recommend listening to episode number 88, which is all about the amazing life that whales lead. And they certainly do lead an amazing life indeed.

[00:16:25] And as a final reminder, if you were looking to become a member of Leonardo English, and unlock the transcripts, the subtitles and key vocabulary, and come to our community live sessions, then you can do all of that over on the website, leonardoenglish.com.

[00:16:42] And if you've enjoyed this episode then send me an email and let me know what you thought of the show - you can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:16:51] I love hearing from each and every one of you, and I read and respond to every single message I receive.

[00:16:58] And if you are already a member of Leonardo English, congratulations, you are fantastic. I look forward to chatting to you about this episode in our members-only community, at community.leonardoenglish.com and to seeing you at our next live events.

[00:17:14] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:17:19] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
Become a member
Already a member? Login

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Whaling, the hunting and killing of whales.

[00:00:30] It is one of the bloodiest businesses in history, and an example of how mankind almost eradicated an entire species from the face of the earth.

[00:00:42] It’s also a fascinating story, and in a strange way, it enabled a lot of the conveniences of modern society. 

[00:00:51] So I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:00:54] Before we get right into that though, let me just quickly remind you that you can listen along with the subtitles, an interactive transcript complete with key vocabulary, for this episode and all of our other 150 or so over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com

[00:01:13] The website is also home to our community, where members do meetups and conversation practice, as well as tonnes of guides on improving your English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:24] So, if you haven't checked that out, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:31] OK then, whaling.

[00:01:34] It has been called the greatest wildlife exploitation in human history, with an estimated 3 million whales killed in the twentieth century alone. 

[00:01:46] Several whale species were hunted to the brink of extinction, they were nearly wiped out completely, and almost no stretch of the ocean was spared from the whale hunters’ boats and their deadly harpoons.

[00:02:02] While whale hunting peaked in relatively recent history, the hunting and killing of whales by humans is not new.

[00:02:13] Indeed, whaling goes back almost 5,000 years, and there is a long history of coastal communities all over the world, from Norway to Japan, Korea to the Native North Americans, hunting whales.

[00:02:29] This, of course, makes sense. 

[00:02:32] Whales are pretty large animals, they are relatively easy to hunt, because they are quite friendly and you can get quite close to them in a boat and they have a very large surface area, and if you manage to kill one whale, well then that is lunch for quite a long time.

[00:02:52] Almost every part of the whale would be used. 

[00:02:55] The fat, called ‘blubber’, the meat, the internal organs, it was all an excellent source of protein. 

[00:03:04] The bones would often be used to make tools, and the baleen, the sort of nail-like material in a whale’s mouth, was often used for making baskets or even for making roofs for your house.

[00:03:21] So, killing whales made a huge amount of sense, especially for communities in places like the north east coast of America, near the Arctic Circle, where farming animals just wasn’t feasible, you couldn't easily do it.

[00:03:37] Different communities in different countries would hunt the whales in different ways. Sometimes the whales would be chased onto the beaches by boats, the boats would form a line and drive the whales towards the land, onto the beach, where they would get stuck, and then be killed by the hunters.

[00:03:58] Another early way was by approaching a whale out at sea, sticking a harpoon into it, which is a sort of knife with a hook on. 

[00:04:09] The whale would, understandably, swim away fast when it was attacked, but attached to the harpoon would be a long rope, and on the end of that rope, would be something that would float and slow the whale down. 

[00:04:26] Eventually the whale would tire, it would become exhausted, and the hunters would be able to kill it.

[00:04:33] Neither of these outcomes were great if you were a whale, but the good news for the whale population overall was that these activities weren’t done en masse, they were done by small coastal communities to provide food for themselves.

[00:04:51] But, that wasn’t to continue forever.

[00:04:55] During the Middle Ages and Renaissance period in Europe, the demand for whale products started to increase. 

[00:05:04] You could make oil from whale fat, which could be used for candles

[00:05:10] As people needed to do more things that required light, such as reading, whales started to be hunted not just to support small communities by the sea, but also to be sold on for a profit.

[00:05:26] Then as Europeans sailed across The Atlantic to America, they took their love for whale products with them, and America soon became the world capital for whaling.

[00:05:41] The method for actually capturing the whales hadn’t changed a huge amount though - it was still relatively basic. 

[00:05:49] One of the main differences was that, instead of just setting off from the shore, there would be larger boats that would set off on voyages for months or even years at a time.

[00:06:04] And it was from these larger boats that the smaller boats would be launched, off to search for their prey.

[00:06:13] There’s an account from an early 19th century whale hunt that describes 21 men on one of these small boats, that was only 7.5 metres long. 

[00:06:25] Now, I should warn you that this will be a little bit graphic, a bit bloody, so skip forward a couple of minutes if you don’t want to listen to an account of a whale hunt.

[00:06:38] The small boat would get as close as possible to the whale. When it was close enough, a hunter on the boat would throw a harpoon at the whale’s body.

[00:06:50] But this time, instead of the harpoon being attached to an object that it would drag after it, it was attached to the boat.

[00:07:00] When the whale was hit, it would swim away as fast as it could, dragging the boat with it. 

[00:07:06] The boat would be pulled along at breakneck speeds, often with men being thrown aboard into the ice-cold water as the boat bumped up and down over the waves.

[00:07:19] Eventually, the whale would tire, the men would be able to approach it and they would cut open a main artery, and a huge fountain of blood would pour out, covering the men on the boat.

[00:07:35] They would then tow the dead whale back to the main boat, drag it onboard, and proceed to cut it up into small pieces, and boil them in pots to create the precious whale oil.

[00:07:51] After having repeated this 40 or 50 times, with 40 or 50 different whales, the ship would return to shore, where they would sell the whale oil, and all the other remaining parts of the whale, for a large profit.

[00:08:08] Although some of you might be hearing this and thinking “how disgusting - I can’t believe people actually did this”, one can imagine how, to these men who spent their entire lives hunting, killing, and then cutting whales into small pieces, that whales weren’t majestic creatures of the sea, they were considered just products to take from the ocean and process

[00:08:35] Indeed, there is a report of a whale hunter describing a whale as “a self-propelled tub of high-income lard”, lard is a type of fat. 

[00:08:48] So to these men, a whale was a big lump of swimming money, and it was their job to take it from the sea and turn it into products that could be sold.

[00:09:02] And whale hunting had become an incredibly profitable, big business - indeed by the year 1850 it had become the fifth largest industry in the United States.

[00:09:17] The industrial revolution had meant that there was a huge increase in demand for lighting, and whale oil was one of the most effective products there was to produce light. 

[00:09:30] It was also an excellent lubricant, and so was used for industrial machinery, as well as for explosives, and even soap.

[00:09:42] It wasn’t just whale oil, though.

[00:09:45] Whale bones were used for corsets, the tightly fitting piece that women would wear under their clothes to compress their body and make them look thinner.

[00:09:56] And whale bones were also used for umbrellas and to make pieces for board games.

[00:10:03] There’s even a substance called Ambergris that comes from the intestines of a type of whale called a sperm whale that is used to make perfume, and is incredibly expensive.

[00:10:17] This heightened demand for whale products led to more and more men heading out to sea, and to the untimely end of more and more whales.

[00:10:29] And although the sea might have looked never-ending, the whale population wasn’t infinite

[00:10:37] As more and more whales were killed, they became harder and harder to find, and the hunters had to go further and further afield.

[00:10:47] Whaling boats went all the way up to the Arctic Ocean, and all the way down to the Antarctic Ocean on the hunt for their prey.

[00:10:58] At the same time, technological advances were making life even more hazardous for the whales. 

[00:11:05] The boats were faster, and the harpoons could now be fired from a gun, rather than just by hand. 

[00:11:14] As you might imagine, this led to a huge increase in the number of whales killed.

[00:11:21] Scientists estimate that around 300,000 sperm whales were killed during the 200 years between 1700 and 1900. 

[00:11:33] Then it took just another 60 years for whalers to kill the next 300,000.

[00:11:40] The thing that a lot of people don’t realise is that, even though there were plenty of other whale-alternative products by the mid 1850s–so using kerosene instead of whale oil for lighting, for example–these new technological advances had made whale hunting so much easier, and it continued well into the 20th century.

[00:12:08] The whale populations were reducing dramatically, so much so that in 1927 the League of Nations held a conference on whaling. 

[00:12:20] Gradually quotas were introduced, limits on how many whales could be killed commercially, and from the 1960s the number of whales killed every year has been decreasing.

[00:12:34] Still, whales are hunted by 9 different countries, albeit now for ‘cultural’ or ‘scientific’ purposes, commercial whaling, the hunting of whales to sell for a profit, has been banned since 1986.

[00:12:50] And while whales now might not have to be fearful of large, commercial ships coming to launch large harpoons into them and turn them into soap, life as a whale isn’t completely without its threats.

[00:13:07] They are often caught in fishing nets, and it’s estimated that, over the course of a lifetime, 80% of whales in the North Atlantic Ocean are caught in a fishing net at least once.

[00:13:20] Loud noises, from the sounds of ship engines, to the sounds produced by underwater drills are very disconcerting for whales, they confuse them, and they can damage their hearing.

[00:13:35] And whales are killed in large numbers every year just by being hit by ships. 

[00:13:42] Indeed, the WWF, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature reports that, for a particular type of whale called the northern right whale, 90% of the ones that are killed by humans are killed after being hit by ships.

[00:14:00] It’s not all bad news for whales though.

[00:14:04] Although it’s hard to measure the population of different types of whales, scientists do believe that the numbers are increasing, with the populations of some types of whale almost approaching the numbers pre-whaling. 

[00:14:21] And when it comes to how we view whaling now, it is easy to look back at it with a combination of amazement and disgust, wondering how we could be so cruel to a creature that is now almost universally admired, and we know is actually pretty intelligent.

[00:14:42] But, as often seems to be a theme with this show, we can’t evaluate the past with the same criteria as we evaluate the present. 

[00:14:52] We are also great beneficiaries, albeit indirectly, of the whaling industry.

[00:14:58] The reality is that whaling, and the products that came from the bodies of these millions of whales, powered much of life in Europe and the United States in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. 

[00:15:13] Without a cheap source of light, without a cheap way to power industrial machines, or a way to produce soap, how would the world we live in today be different?

[00:15:26] While that is an interesting question, perhaps an even more interesting question is, in 200 or 300 years, what will people consider to be today’s equivalent of the whale? 

[00:15:39] What is something that we do now that is widely accepted, but might be considered cruel, destructive and highly unnecessary in 300 years time?

[00:15:51] And on that positive note, that is it for today’s episode on Whaling.

[00:15:57] I hope it’s been an interesting one, that you’ve learned something new, and that you now know, if you didn’t already, that we have quite a lot to be thankful to whales for.

[00:16:08] If you are looking for a more upbeat, a more positive episode about whales, then I’d definitely recommend listening to episode number 88, which is all about the amazing life that whales lead. And they certainly do lead an amazing life indeed.

[00:16:25] And as a final reminder, if you were looking to become a member of Leonardo English, and unlock the transcripts, the subtitles and key vocabulary, and come to our community live sessions, then you can do all of that over on the website, leonardoenglish.com.

[00:16:42] And if you've enjoyed this episode then send me an email and let me know what you thought of the show - you can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:16:51] I love hearing from each and every one of you, and I read and respond to every single message I receive.

[00:16:58] And if you are already a member of Leonardo English, congratulations, you are fantastic. I look forward to chatting to you about this episode in our members-only community, at community.leonardoenglish.com and to seeing you at our next live events.

[00:17:14] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:17:19] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]


[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge and today we are going to be talking about Whaling, the hunting and killing of whales.

[00:00:30] It is one of the bloodiest businesses in history, and an example of how mankind almost eradicated an entire species from the face of the earth.

[00:00:42] It’s also a fascinating story, and in a strange way, it enabled a lot of the conveniences of modern society. 

[00:00:51] So I hope you’ll enjoy it.

[00:00:54] Before we get right into that though, let me just quickly remind you that you can listen along with the subtitles, an interactive transcript complete with key vocabulary, for this episode and all of our other 150 or so over on the website, which is leonardoenglish.com

[00:01:13] The website is also home to our community, where members do meetups and conversation practice, as well as tonnes of guides on improving your English in a more interesting way.

[00:01:24] So, if you haven't checked that out, then the place to go to is leonardoenglish.com.

[00:01:31] OK then, whaling.

[00:01:34] It has been called the greatest wildlife exploitation in human history, with an estimated 3 million whales killed in the twentieth century alone. 

[00:01:46] Several whale species were hunted to the brink of extinction, they were nearly wiped out completely, and almost no stretch of the ocean was spared from the whale hunters’ boats and their deadly harpoons.

[00:02:02] While whale hunting peaked in relatively recent history, the hunting and killing of whales by humans is not new.

[00:02:13] Indeed, whaling goes back almost 5,000 years, and there is a long history of coastal communities all over the world, from Norway to Japan, Korea to the Native North Americans, hunting whales.

[00:02:29] This, of course, makes sense. 

[00:02:32] Whales are pretty large animals, they are relatively easy to hunt, because they are quite friendly and you can get quite close to them in a boat and they have a very large surface area, and if you manage to kill one whale, well then that is lunch for quite a long time.

[00:02:52] Almost every part of the whale would be used. 

[00:02:55] The fat, called ‘blubber’, the meat, the internal organs, it was all an excellent source of protein. 

[00:03:04] The bones would often be used to make tools, and the baleen, the sort of nail-like material in a whale’s mouth, was often used for making baskets or even for making roofs for your house.

[00:03:21] So, killing whales made a huge amount of sense, especially for communities in places like the north east coast of America, near the Arctic Circle, where farming animals just wasn’t feasible, you couldn't easily do it.

[00:03:37] Different communities in different countries would hunt the whales in different ways. Sometimes the whales would be chased onto the beaches by boats, the boats would form a line and drive the whales towards the land, onto the beach, where they would get stuck, and then be killed by the hunters.

[00:03:58] Another early way was by approaching a whale out at sea, sticking a harpoon into it, which is a sort of knife with a hook on. 

[00:04:09] The whale would, understandably, swim away fast when it was attacked, but attached to the harpoon would be a long rope, and on the end of that rope, would be something that would float and slow the whale down. 

[00:04:26] Eventually the whale would tire, it would become exhausted, and the hunters would be able to kill it.

[00:04:33] Neither of these outcomes were great if you were a whale, but the good news for the whale population overall was that these activities weren’t done en masse, they were done by small coastal communities to provide food for themselves.

[00:04:51] But, that wasn’t to continue forever.

[00:04:55] During the Middle Ages and Renaissance period in Europe, the demand for whale products started to increase. 

[00:05:04] You could make oil from whale fat, which could be used for candles

[00:05:10] As people needed to do more things that required light, such as reading, whales started to be hunted not just to support small communities by the sea, but also to be sold on for a profit.

[00:05:26] Then as Europeans sailed across The Atlantic to America, they took their love for whale products with them, and America soon became the world capital for whaling.

[00:05:41] The method for actually capturing the whales hadn’t changed a huge amount though - it was still relatively basic. 

[00:05:49] One of the main differences was that, instead of just setting off from the shore, there would be larger boats that would set off on voyages for months or even years at a time.

[00:06:04] And it was from these larger boats that the smaller boats would be launched, off to search for their prey.

[00:06:13] There’s an account from an early 19th century whale hunt that describes 21 men on one of these small boats, that was only 7.5 metres long. 

[00:06:25] Now, I should warn you that this will be a little bit graphic, a bit bloody, so skip forward a couple of minutes if you don’t want to listen to an account of a whale hunt.

[00:06:38] The small boat would get as close as possible to the whale. When it was close enough, a hunter on the boat would throw a harpoon at the whale’s body.

[00:06:50] But this time, instead of the harpoon being attached to an object that it would drag after it, it was attached to the boat.

[00:07:00] When the whale was hit, it would swim away as fast as it could, dragging the boat with it. 

[00:07:06] The boat would be pulled along at breakneck speeds, often with men being thrown aboard into the ice-cold water as the boat bumped up and down over the waves.

[00:07:19] Eventually, the whale would tire, the men would be able to approach it and they would cut open a main artery, and a huge fountain of blood would pour out, covering the men on the boat.

[00:07:35] They would then tow the dead whale back to the main boat, drag it onboard, and proceed to cut it up into small pieces, and boil them in pots to create the precious whale oil.

[00:07:51] After having repeated this 40 or 50 times, with 40 or 50 different whales, the ship would return to shore, where they would sell the whale oil, and all the other remaining parts of the whale, for a large profit.

[00:08:08] Although some of you might be hearing this and thinking “how disgusting - I can’t believe people actually did this”, one can imagine how, to these men who spent their entire lives hunting, killing, and then cutting whales into small pieces, that whales weren’t majestic creatures of the sea, they were considered just products to take from the ocean and process

[00:08:35] Indeed, there is a report of a whale hunter describing a whale as “a self-propelled tub of high-income lard”, lard is a type of fat. 

[00:08:48] So to these men, a whale was a big lump of swimming money, and it was their job to take it from the sea and turn it into products that could be sold.

[00:09:02] And whale hunting had become an incredibly profitable, big business - indeed by the year 1850 it had become the fifth largest industry in the United States.

[00:09:17] The industrial revolution had meant that there was a huge increase in demand for lighting, and whale oil was one of the most effective products there was to produce light. 

[00:09:30] It was also an excellent lubricant, and so was used for industrial machinery, as well as for explosives, and even soap.

[00:09:42] It wasn’t just whale oil, though.

[00:09:45] Whale bones were used for corsets, the tightly fitting piece that women would wear under their clothes to compress their body and make them look thinner.

[00:09:56] And whale bones were also used for umbrellas and to make pieces for board games.

[00:10:03] There’s even a substance called Ambergris that comes from the intestines of a type of whale called a sperm whale that is used to make perfume, and is incredibly expensive.

[00:10:17] This heightened demand for whale products led to more and more men heading out to sea, and to the untimely end of more and more whales.

[00:10:29] And although the sea might have looked never-ending, the whale population wasn’t infinite

[00:10:37] As more and more whales were killed, they became harder and harder to find, and the hunters had to go further and further afield.

[00:10:47] Whaling boats went all the way up to the Arctic Ocean, and all the way down to the Antarctic Ocean on the hunt for their prey.

[00:10:58] At the same time, technological advances were making life even more hazardous for the whales. 

[00:11:05] The boats were faster, and the harpoons could now be fired from a gun, rather than just by hand. 

[00:11:14] As you might imagine, this led to a huge increase in the number of whales killed.

[00:11:21] Scientists estimate that around 300,000 sperm whales were killed during the 200 years between 1700 and 1900. 

[00:11:33] Then it took just another 60 years for whalers to kill the next 300,000.

[00:11:40] The thing that a lot of people don’t realise is that, even though there were plenty of other whale-alternative products by the mid 1850s–so using kerosene instead of whale oil for lighting, for example–these new technological advances had made whale hunting so much easier, and it continued well into the 20th century.

[00:12:08] The whale populations were reducing dramatically, so much so that in 1927 the League of Nations held a conference on whaling. 

[00:12:20] Gradually quotas were introduced, limits on how many whales could be killed commercially, and from the 1960s the number of whales killed every year has been decreasing.

[00:12:34] Still, whales are hunted by 9 different countries, albeit now for ‘cultural’ or ‘scientific’ purposes, commercial whaling, the hunting of whales to sell for a profit, has been banned since 1986.

[00:12:50] And while whales now might not have to be fearful of large, commercial ships coming to launch large harpoons into them and turn them into soap, life as a whale isn’t completely without its threats.

[00:13:07] They are often caught in fishing nets, and it’s estimated that, over the course of a lifetime, 80% of whales in the North Atlantic Ocean are caught in a fishing net at least once.

[00:13:20] Loud noises, from the sounds of ship engines, to the sounds produced by underwater drills are very disconcerting for whales, they confuse them, and they can damage their hearing.

[00:13:35] And whales are killed in large numbers every year just by being hit by ships. 

[00:13:42] Indeed, the WWF, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature reports that, for a particular type of whale called the northern right whale, 90% of the ones that are killed by humans are killed after being hit by ships.

[00:14:00] It’s not all bad news for whales though.

[00:14:04] Although it’s hard to measure the population of different types of whales, scientists do believe that the numbers are increasing, with the populations of some types of whale almost approaching the numbers pre-whaling. 

[00:14:21] And when it comes to how we view whaling now, it is easy to look back at it with a combination of amazement and disgust, wondering how we could be so cruel to a creature that is now almost universally admired, and we know is actually pretty intelligent.

[00:14:42] But, as often seems to be a theme with this show, we can’t evaluate the past with the same criteria as we evaluate the present. 

[00:14:52] We are also great beneficiaries, albeit indirectly, of the whaling industry.

[00:14:58] The reality is that whaling, and the products that came from the bodies of these millions of whales, powered much of life in Europe and the United States in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. 

[00:15:13] Without a cheap source of light, without a cheap way to power industrial machines, or a way to produce soap, how would the world we live in today be different?

[00:15:26] While that is an interesting question, perhaps an even more interesting question is, in 200 or 300 years, what will people consider to be today’s equivalent of the whale? 

[00:15:39] What is something that we do now that is widely accepted, but might be considered cruel, destructive and highly unnecessary in 300 years time?

[00:15:51] And on that positive note, that is it for today’s episode on Whaling.

[00:15:57] I hope it’s been an interesting one, that you’ve learned something new, and that you now know, if you didn’t already, that we have quite a lot to be thankful to whales for.

[00:16:08] If you are looking for a more upbeat, a more positive episode about whales, then I’d definitely recommend listening to episode number 88, which is all about the amazing life that whales lead. And they certainly do lead an amazing life indeed.

[00:16:25] And as a final reminder, if you were looking to become a member of Leonardo English, and unlock the transcripts, the subtitles and key vocabulary, and come to our community live sessions, then you can do all of that over on the website, leonardoenglish.com.

[00:16:42] And if you've enjoyed this episode then send me an email and let me know what you thought of the show - you can email hi hi@leonardoenglish.com.

[00:16:51] I love hearing from each and every one of you, and I read and respond to every single message I receive.

[00:16:58] And if you are already a member of Leonardo English, congratulations, you are fantastic. I look forward to chatting to you about this episode in our members-only community, at community.leonardoenglish.com and to seeing you at our next live events.

[00:17:14] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:17:19] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

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