San Francisco, California

The Art of Whaling

This piece by Jessica Boyall about the art of whaling is equal parts remarkable and horrifying:

The first European settlers arrived at Nantucket, an isolated island some thirty miles from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 1659. They built homes, Quaker meeting houses, and cattle farms, swiftly and forcibly colonising the island, which was until then inhabited by 2500 Wampanoag Native Americans. The word Nantucket is a Native American one, meaning either “far-away land” or “sandy, sterile soil tempting no one”. And the colonisers soon found it thus — too small and infertile to accommodate the number of agricultural plots necessary to support their growing population. So they looked to the sea, according to legend quite literally, in 1690, when town selectmen climbed a sloping hill overlooking the southern coast. Here, they watched whales breach the Atlantic’s surface and pronounced the ocean “a green pasture where our children's grandchildren will go for bread”.

One of the many interesting notes that Jessica makes here is when she describes how whalers didn’t make notes about how gory and miserable whaling was. They drew little illustrations of smiling whales and ignored the terror of it. Reminds me of that note about how Alexandrian scholars never described the Library of Alexandria.

Via Jeremy Keith.

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