I’m always a week or three behind on my New Yorker reading, so I just got to last week’s story about the whaling industry. It’s an interesting piece, and it reminded me of a recent trip I took to the New Bedford Whaling Museum when I was in Westport at the beginning of the month.
The museum has some amazing exhibits about the history of the whaling industry and they’ve also got an enormous (66-foot) blue whale skeleton hanging in the atrium but what I enjoyed learning about most were the many ways in which the sailors kept themselves occupied during the journey. Whaling trips could last for years, and a ship might only see a couple dozen whales each year. So the sailors often had plenty of time on their hands for reading books or singing ballads or carving elaborate scrimshaw. According to Crain, many whalers also wrote, and “more than five thousand of their journals and logbooks survive in archives.” One captain’s wife who’d come along “amused herself by giving names to the whales her husband caught, including Jonah, Queen Victoria, and Buster.”
“There she blows,” of course, was the sailors’ rallying cry whenever a whale spout was spotted. And “there she breaches” was apparently what was said if whale skin was first seen instead.