Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Drift Whaling or Strandings Brought an Occasional Bonus to Provincetown Shores.

This is a photo from what appears to be a "cabinet card" dating back to the late 1800s, showing a whale on the edge of a Provincetown beach. These cards consisted of card stock attached to photographs in a size slightly larger than today's picture postcards, with the first postal cards designed to be sold as souvenirs made available in Chicago, at the Colombian Exposition of 1893.
The back of this card has a handwritten note reading "Finback Whale." The landline attached to the whale and the date of the print suggest that this may be a "drift whale," a dead whale that had drifted in to shore or was found drifting off the shoreline and was then towed to shore, pulled with a line from a small boat. This sort of landing of a whale was serendipitous for the finder, and in any village of that day, a multiple stranding could prove a boon to the entire community, bringing a good price for many barrels of oil extracted from a single whale. Sometimes villagers would use the oil to light their own lamps for a good period of time rather than selling off the oil when whales drifted in or stranded on the shoreline.
This whale may also have been caught at sea and brought to shore for flensing, or cutting up the blubber and other usable parts, but that doesn't seem as likely, even though these men are armed with long-handled flensing knives. There are no barrels ready to fill with whale oil, and there is no wagon ready to haul the blubber away to be melted down, so this looks more likely to have been a lucky find.

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