23 Hour Death of a Whale

August 28, 2015 David Moody

“23 Hour Death of a Whale” is an account from an unknown whaling vessel in the years before the global moratorium was enacted.

Excerpted from Anthony D’Amato & Sudhir K. Chopra’s “Whales: Their Emerging Right to Life“. 

The first observation was logged at 12:15 when the whale, a bull sperm of nearly 50 feet, surfaced near the canoa, [FN19] with a launch in fast pursuit, the harpooner on the bow throwing a lance just as the whale sounded. Apparently the master already realized that they had an unusually wary and resourceful whale on their harpoon.

Lances are thrown repeatedly into the whale.

[T]he brave bull whale, through the day lanced again and again, dives and eludes, dragging the whalers after him. Never once does he attempt to attack his hunters. An impossible ten hours later, the light is fading and the launch driver is for cutting the line and letting the whale loose, but the master, who is known for his tenacity, determines to hold the whale through the night.

No lancing is attempted during the night. The whalers work the harpoon line, always trying to maintain tension, forcing the whale to dive as quickly as possible, and always trying to herd it toward a nearby island. Then at dawn:

[The whale] surfaces, spouting every 10 to 13 seconds. The harpooner goes into the canoa, and the canoa creeps up behind the whale, slowly, hand over hand. The canoa rows the last 50 yards. The whale is swimming very slowly. The harpooner throws the lance repeatedly, in the end using the lance to jab deeply without throwing. Twenty-one thrusts are made, and the whale begins spouting fountains of blood . . . .

7:42–The whale is spouting every 10 to 13 seconds, some spouts are almost clear, others seem almost pure blood fountains . . . .

7:46–The whale surfaces, seems tired, confused, hurt. The harpooner thrusts his lance 18 times more, the canoa stays close.

8:00–Still lancing.

8:07–Still lancing, there is no point in counting. The harpooner is working close enough to jab the lance deeply, over and over . . . .

8:20–Thirty seconds between spouts, heavy blood . . . .

8:41–Twenty seconds between spouts, whale upright, canoa waits nearby for the death which must come soon.

9:00–Heavy spout of blood, the whale rolls slightly, tail showing . . . .

9:15–Shows right flipper in a dizzy slow motion roll, one fluke emerges.

9:36–Tail showing constantly, the whale lying partially on his side . . . .

9:55–The whale is dead.

The whale has taken 23 hours and 40 minutes to die. [FN20]

Citation: D. DAY, supra note 2, at 144-47 (quoting David Moody in ECOLOGIST, July 1979).

Photo credit for “23 Hour Death of a Whale”: Australian Customs and Border Protection Service.