History of whaling in and near North Carolina

Reeves, Randall R. and Mitchell, Edward (1988) History of whaling in and near North Carolina. NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service, (NOAA Technical Report NMFS, 65)

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This study aims to reconstruct the history of shore whaling in the southeastern United States, emphasizing statistics on the catch of right whales, Eubalaena glacialis, the preferred targets. The earliest record of whaling in North Carolina is of a proposed voyage from New York in 1667. Early settlers on the Outer Banks utilized whale strandings by trying out the blubber of carcasses that came ashore, and some whale oil was exported from the 1660s onward. New England whalemen whaled along the North Carolina coast during the 1720s, and possibly earlier. As some of the whalemen from the northern colonies moved to Nortb Carolina, a shore-based whale fishery developed. This activity apparently continued without interruption until the War of Independence in 1776, and continued or was reestablished after the war. The methods and techniques of the North Carolina shore whalers changed slowly: as late as the 1890s they used a drogue at the end of the harpoon line and refrained from staying fast to the harpooned whale, they seldom employed harpoon guns, and then only during the waning years of the fishery. The whaling season extended from late December to May, most successfully between February and May. Whalers believed they were intercepting whales migrating north along the coast. Although some whaling occurred as far north as Cape Hatteras, it centered on the outer coasts of Core, Shackleford, and Bogue banks, particularly near Cape Lookout. The capture of whales other than right whales was a rare event. The number of boat crews probably remained fairly stable during much of the 19th century, with some increase in effort in the late 1870s and early 1880s when numbers of boat crews reached 12 to 18. Then by the late 1880s and 1890s only about 6 crews were active. North Carolina whaling had become desultory by the early 1900s, and ended completely in 1917. Judging by export and tax records, some ocean-going vessels made good catches off this coast in about 1715-30, including an estimated 13 whales in 1719, 15 in one year during the early 1720s, 5-6 in a three-year period of the mid to late 1720s, 8 by one ship's crew in 1727, 17 by one group of whalers in 1728-29, and 8-9 by two boats working from Ocracoke prior to 1730. It is impossible to know how representative these fragmentary records are for the period as a whole. The Carolina coast declined in importance as a cruising ground for pelagic whalers by the 1740s or 1750s. Thereafter, shore whaling probably accounted for most of the (poorly documented) catch. Lifetime catches by individual whalemen on Shackleford Banks suggest that the average annual catch was at least one to two whales during 1830·80, perhaps about four during the late 1870s and early 1880s, and declining to about one by the late 1880s. Data are insufficient to estimate the hunting loss rate in the Outer Banks whale fishery. North Carolina is the only state south of New Jersey known to have had a long and well established shore whaling industry. Some whaling took place in Chesapeake Bay and along the coast of Virginia during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, but it is poorly documented. Most of the rigbt whales taken off South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida during the 19th century were killed by pelagic whalers. Florida is the only southeastern state with evidence of an aboriginal (pre-contact) whale fishery. Right whale calves may have been among the aboriginal whalers' principal targets. (PDF file contains 34 pages.)

Item Type: Monograph or Serial Issue
Title: History of whaling in and near North Carolina
Personal Creator/Author:
Reeves, Randall R.
Mitchell, Edward
Series Name: NOAA Technical Report NMFS
Number: 65
Date: 1988
Publisher: NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service
Issuing Agency: United States National Marine Fisheries Service
Subjects: Fisheries
Item ID: 2756
Depositing User: Patti M. Marraro
Date Deposited: 04 Nov 2009 21:59
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2011 18:25
URI: http://aquaticcommons.org/id/eprint/2756

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