CRD 03-12

Table 1. Fourteen whaling eras, with approximate timing, characteristic features, and spatial extent.

Era Start End Characteristic features

Spatial extent

Prehistoric Unspecified Antiquity <1800 Highly variable; usually not well documented by written sources and thus largely dependent upon artifacts, other archaeological evidence, sparse written narratives, oral histories, etc. Indian Ocean, Tierra del Fuego, N Atlantic

Antiquity (<1000 A.D.)

Ca. 1900

Use of poison-tipped arrows, darts, or lances to kill, sometimes involving barrier nets as well

Norway/Iceland, Rim of N Pacific (Aleutians, Kodiak)

Net 1674 1910 Fiber, leather, or steel nets, sometimes used in conjunction with driving of animals (the many shut-in fisheries for belugas are not included here)

New Zealand, Japan, Kamchatka

Arctic Aboriginal

Antiquity (<1000 A.D.)


Skin boats, hand harpoons and lances grading into use of firearms and    explosives in various forms, powered boats at least for towing whales to ice edge or shore for processing

Chukotka east to Greenland

Temperate Aboriginal

Antiquity (<1500 A.D.)

Early 1900s

Dugout or skin boats, mainly hand-powered; hand harpoons and lances

NW North America

Tropical Aboriginal



Open boats powered by hand or sail, hand-delivered weapons (harpoons, large hooks, blowhole plugs), shore processing

Indonesia, Philippines

Basque Shore

1059 (or earlier)

Ca. 1700

Open boats, hand- and sail-propelled, deployed from shore; harpoon-line-float; hand lance; whales towed to shore for processing

Rim of N Atlantic, some sites in eastern S America

Basque Pelagic


1870s (Arctic)

Mother-ship arrangement, dependent exclusively on hand and sail power; blubber stowed on-board and delivered to processing sites on shore; hand harpoon and lance

Rim of N Atlantic including Nearctic

American (“Yankee”) Shore


Ongoing (Bequia)

Whaleboats launched from shore, hand- or sail-powered, grading into powered boats at least for towing; hand harpoons and lances grading into use of firearms and explosives in various forms

Global except Antarctic

American (“Yankee”) Pelagic



On-board tryworks; mother-ship operations with whaleboats, hand- and sail- powered; hand harpoons and lances grading into use of firearms and explosives in various forms

Global except Antarctic

Transitional Steam


1915 (Alaska)

Introduction of steam power, use of guns and explosives; whales could be towed to shore or flensed and dismembered alongside

NE United States, South Africa, Norway, Alaska, Arctic Atlantic

Norwegian (Mechanized) Shore


Ongoing (in Japan)

Powered catcher boats operating from shore stations; deck-mounted cannons; whales towed to shore processing plants


Factory-ship (Norwegian-type)


Ongoing (Japan in Antarctic)

Engine-powered floating factories either moored near shore or pelagic; powered catcher boats with deck-mounted cannons; eventually stern slipways on factories for on-board processing


Mechanized Small-type



Powered catcher boats; deck-mounted harpoon guns and small cannons; whales either flensed at sea or towed to shore for processing; coastal or semi-pelagic

Norway, Japan

Table 2. Four periods where the types of information available on the extent and magnitude of whaling , showing the basic features, approximate time period, and representative types of sources.


Basic Features

Time Period

Representative Source Types


Prehistoric, artifact-based, with limited ability   to make inferences from written materials (e.g., early travel narratives)

Antiquity to 18th century

Hunting tools (e.g., harpoons); whale bones in middens or shelter structures, on beaches, or incorporated into art objects; illustrations on cave walls or scenes depicted in carvings and other art/craft forms 


Written or printed materials, generally based on first-hand observations by the writer 

1700 to early 1900s

Descriptions in non-whaling trade newspapers, anthropological field studies, diaries or journals of whalemen, personal account books


Records of oil, baleen (whalebone), and other whale products, usually compiled on an annual or voyage basis

1750 to early 1900s

Whaling-trade newspapers, whaling voyage logbooks and account books, customs-house records, British colonial Blue Books

Individual whale-centered

Records of numbers of whales caught and processed

1870 to present

Lists maintained by company or government officials, data sheets submitted to national or international agencies (Bureau of Whaling Statistics, International Whaling Commission)
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(File Modified Nov. 19 2010)