Whaling is the hunting of whales primarily for meat and oil. Its earliest forms date to at least 3000 BC. Various coastal communities have long histories of sustenance whaling and harvesting beached whales. Industrial whaling emerged with organized fleets in the 17th century; competitive national whaling industries in the 18th and 19th centuries; and the introduction of factory ships along with the concept of whale harvesting in the first half of the 20th century.
As technology increased and demand for the resources remained, catches far exceeded the sustainable limit for whale stocks. In the late 1930s, more than 50,000 whales were killed annually and by the middle of the century whale stocks were not being replenished. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling so that stocks might recover.
While the moratorium has been successful in averting the extinction of whale species due to overhunting, contemporary whaling is subject to intense debate. Pro-whaling countries, notably Japan, wish to lift the ban on stocks that they claim have recovered sufficiently to sustain limited hunting. Anti-whaling countries and environmental groups say whale species remain vulnerable and that whaling is immoral, unsustainable, and should remain banned permanently.
Quakers and Whaling
Quakers dominated the whaling industry in Nantucket and New Bedford, Massachusetts, for 150 years.
In 1690 a Quaker from Cape Cod, Ichabod Padduck, went to Nantucket Island to instruct the islanders in the methods of whaling. Thus began some 150 years of industrial scale whaling by Quakers on Nantucket Island and the adjacent Massachusetts town of New Bedford. Vast fortunes were made as whale ships ranged the whaling grounds from the South Atlantic to Greenland, and from the coast of Chile to the South Seas. Their target was the sperm whale whose oil and spermaceti fetched high prices in the growing industrial centres of America and Europe.
Quakers first moved to Nantucket and the New England shores in the 1650s to avoid persecution in England. The Religious Society of Friends came to dominate life on the island. Many of Nantucket’s first families - Macy, Starbuck, Coffin, Hussey, Folger, Rotch - became pre-eminent in the whaling industry. Whaling was expanding and many Nantucket Quakers were employed in it.
During the 1840s Nantucket began to lose its place at the forefront of whaling. A disastrous fire in 1846, coupled with disputes between various Quaker factions on the island, led to the demise of the industry there. By 1850 Nantucket whaling was no more. The arrival of the railroad in New Bedford had driven the last nail in the coffin of Nantucket as a centre for whaling and New Bedford became the ‘city that lit the world’ with its whale oil.