Sperm oil, a special kind of oil obtained from the head cavities of sperm whales, differs chemically from ordinary whale oil: it is composed mostly of liquid wax. Its properties and applications differ from those of regular whale oil, and is sold at a higher price when marketed.
Early industrial societies used whale oil widely in oil lamps and to make soap and margarine. With the commercial development of the petroleum industry and vegetable oils, the use of whale oils declined considerably from its peak in the 19th century into the 20th century. In the 21st century, with most countries having banned whaling, the sale and use of whale oil has practically ceased.
Whale oil was obtained by boiling strips of blubber harvested from whales. The removal is known as "flensing" and the boiling process was called "trying out". The boiling was carried out on land in the case of whales caught close to shore or beached. On longer deep-sea whaling expeditions, the trying-out was done on the ship, so that the waste carcass could be thrown away to make room for the next catch.
Baleen whales were generally the main source of whale oil. The oil of baleen whales is exclusively composed of triglycerides, whereas that of toothed whales contains wax esters. The bowhead whale and right whale were considered the ideal whaling targets. They are slow and docile, and they float when killed. They yield plenty of high-quality oil and whalebone, and as a result, they were hunted nearly to extinction.
Whale oil has low viscosity (lower than olive oil), is clear, and varies in color from a bright honey yellow to a dark brown, according to the condition of the blubber from which it has been extracted and the refinement through which it went. It has a strong fishy odor. When hydrogenated, it turns solid and white and its taste and odor change.
The composition of whale oil varies with the species from which it was sourced and the method by which it was harvested and processed. Whale oil is mainly composed of triglycerides (molecules of fatty acids attached to a glycerol molecule). Oil sourced from toothed whales contains a substantial amount of wax esters (especially the oil of sperm whales). Most of the fatty acids are unsaturated. The most common fatty acids are oleic acid and its isomers (18:1 carbon chains).
Whale oil is exceptionally stable.
|Specific gravity||0.920 to 0.931 at 15.6 °C (60.1 °F)|
|Flash point||230 °C (446 °F)|
|Refractive index||1.4760 at 15 °C (59 °F)|
|Iodine number (Wijs)||110–135|
|Viscosity||35–39.6 cSt at 37.8 °C (100.0 °F)|
The use of whale oil had a steady decline starting in the late 19th century due to the development of superior alternatives, and later, the passing of environmental laws. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on commercial whaling, which has all but eliminated the use of whale oil today. The Inuit of North America are granted special whaling rights (justified as being integral to their culture), and they still use whale oil as a food and as lamp oil. See Aboriginal whaling.
Whale oil was used as a cheap illuminant, though it gave off a strong odor when burnt and was not very popular. It was replaced in the late 19th century by cheaper, more efficient, and longer-lasting kerosene. Burning fluid known as camphine was the dominant replacement for whale oil until the arrival of kerosene.
In the UK, whale oil was used in toolmaking machinery as a high-quality lubricant
After the invention of hydrogenation in the early 20th century, whale oil was used to make margarine, a practice that has since been discontinued. Whale oil in margarine has been replaced by vegetable oil.
Whale oil was used to make soap. Until the invention of hydrogenation, it was used only in industrial-grade cleansers, because its foul smell and tendency to discolor made it unsuitable for cosmetic soap.
Whale oil was widely used in the First World War as a preventive measure against trench foot. A British infantry battalion on the Western Front could be expected to use 10 gallons of whale oil a day. The oil was rubbed directly onto bare feet in order to protect them from the effects of immersion.
The pursuit and use of whale oil, along with many other aspects of whaling, are discussed in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. In the novel, the preciousness of the substance to contemporary American society is emphasized when the fictional narrator notes that whale oil is "as rare as the milk of queens." John R. Jewitt, an Englishman who wrote a memoir about his years as a captive of the Nootka people on the Pacific Northwest Coast in 1802–1805, describes how whale oil was used as a condiment with every dish, even strawberries.
Friedrich Ratzel in The History of Mankind (1896), when discussing food materials in Oceania, quoted Captain James Cook's comment in relation to "the Maoris" saying "No Greenlander was ever so sharp set upon train-oil as our friends here, they greedily swallowed the stinking droppings when we were boiling down the fat of dog-fish."
In the 2012 video game Dishonored, whale oil is used as the main source of power for the city of Dunwall. One level in the game's expansion The Knife of Dunwall is set in a whale slaughterhouse used to extract the oil. In the sequel, it is shown that over-hunting has led to a serious decline in the population.
Sealing continues at Bass Strait and the Antipodes Islands. At the end of the year there is a new sealing rush to the Bounty and Auckland Islands. Few sealers, if any, are known to have visited the Foveaux Strait area at this time, although this may be due in part to the secrecy of the captains and owners in reporting where they operate and/or the existence of the Strait not yet being widely known. Whaling continues off the east coast of the North Island. Ships are now visiting the Bay of Islands on a reasonably regular basis. The first reports about the poor behaviour of ships crews are sent to the Church Missionary Society in London.Between 1800 and 1806, £200,000 worth of whale oil is taken from the New Zealand area by British whaling ships operating from Sydney.Blubber
Blubber is a thick layer of vascularized adipose tissue under the skin of all cetaceans, pinnipeds and sirenians.Cameron Slater
Cameron Slater is a right-wing New Zealand-based blogger, best known for publishing the Whale Oil Beef Hooked blog. He edited the tabloid newspaper New Zealand Truth from November 2012 until it ceased publication in July 2013. Slater's father, John Slater, served as President of the New Zealand National Party from 1998 to 2001.Slater believes in reforming the name-suppression laws in New Zealand. In late 2009 he gained notoriety for naming two high-profile sex offenders, and consequently became the first blogger in New Zealand to face charges for breaching a name-suppression order. In January 2010 he named a third person accused of sex offences, and in February 2010 named another person convicted on child-pornography charges. In 2014 Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics demonstrated Slater's close ties to Justice Minister Judith Collins and to Prime Minister John Key and speculated that Slater had been paid to write attack articles on public figures.Camphine
Camphine, the burning fluid lamp fuel, not to be confused with camphene, the chemical.
Camphine was the trade name of a purified spirit of turpentine formerly used for lamps, generally prepared by distilling turpentine with quicklime. Camphine gives a very brilliant light when burned in a lamp, but, to prevent smoking, the lamp must have a very strong draft. To achieve this special lamps were constructed, called Vesta lamps. Liebig describes camphine as a blend of 1 part purified turpentine with three parts 93 to 94% grain alcohol. “It gives a very white light, not as bright as pure turpentine, but it can be burned in a simple lamp.”
Russell reports that whale oil was commonly used in lamps until the 1840s when prices began to rise. Lard lamps were an early substitute beginning in about 1842. Camphine was the first fuel used in burning fluid lamps. Henry Porter of Bangor, Maine patented a turpentine/alcohol blend and the name "burning fluid" in 1835. Hence, the name Porter's Burning Fluid. The mix had been developed as a fuel for oil lamps by Isaiah Jennings of New York in 1830. A typical camphine lamp has wick tubes forming a V. They have caps resembling thimbles to extinguish the light and to prevent evaporation when the lamp is not in use. Whale oil lamps could be upgraded to use the new fuel by installing camphene burners, but the combination of more flammable fluid and the larger fonts in whale oil lamps sometimes caused lamps to explode.
The flammability of burning fluid posed a hazard. Spillage could start a fire. In 1853, Scientific American reported thirty-three deaths from burning fluid lamps the previous year. The most significant incident was the St. Louis Theater fire on June 12, 1846, in Quebec City, Canada. The fire began when someone knocked over a burning fluid lamp; 45 people died.
Coal oil was discovered in 1846; kerosene became available from petroleum after 1858. Kerosene was the fuel of choice until gas lighting or electric lights became available. As measured by flashpoint, kerosene is much less flammable (fp 150-185 deg F, vs 95 for turpentine, and 55 for grain alcohol).
In a PBS Newshour story, Professor Bill Kovarik of Carnegie Mellon University examined the popular idea that whale oil was replaced by kerosene. He found that camphine dominated the market between the two. Camphine prevailed until Congress decided to tax alcohol to fund the Civil War. The tax applied to the alcohol used in camphine making it more costly than kerosene.
Kovarik estimated prices in 1850 as follows:
Camphine or “burning fluid” — 50 cents/gallon (combinations of alcohol, turpentine and camphor oil – bright, sweet smelling)
whale oil — $1.30 to $2.50/gallon
lard oil — 90 cents (low quality, smelly)
coal oil — 50 cents (sooty, smelly, low quality) (the original “kerosene”)
kerosene from petroleum — 60 cents (introduced in early 1860s)He estimated production of camphine at close to 200 million gallon per year vs 18 million gallon for whale oil in 1845. Kerosene reached the 200 million gallon level only in 1870. Hence, camphine burning fluid dominated in the interim between whale oil and kerosene.
Congress passed the Revenue Act of 1862 to help pay for the Civil War. Excise tax was applied to a wide range of products including alcohol. In 1860, 1138 distilleries produced 88MM gallons of spirits with an average price of $0.1440/gal. A proof gallon is defined at a gallon of 100 proof alcohol (consisting of 50 parts absolute alcohol and 53.71 parts of water, specific gravity 0.93353 by hygrometer at 60 deg F).Raw alcohol is used for industrial purposes, primarily for burning fluid, but also as solvent for paints and lacquers and in pharmaceutical preparations and patent medicines. Further processing results in beverage grade alcohols. Initially the tax was $0.15/proof gallon of raw alcohol, $0.25 for beverage alcohol, $0.15 for whiskey, and $0.30/gal for brandy, rum, gin, and wine.In 1864, Congress raised the tax to $0.20 to March 7, then $0.60/gal to Jun 30, and collected $28MM on 85MM gal sold. In 1865, the rate increased to $1.50/gal for 6 months and then $2/gal. Collections fell to $16MM on 17MM gal. In 1866 and 67, the tax remained at $2/gal and $29MM was collected on 14.6MM gal and $28MM on 14.1 MM gal. The conclusion was that much was stored in anticipation of rising taxes and that high tax rates resulted in more fraud. In 1869, the tax was reduced to $0.50/gal. The government collected $33MM in 1869 and $38.6 MM in 1870.
In 1860, 25MM gal of burning fluid was produced at a price of $0.45 to $0.60/gal. In 1866, the price of burning fluid was $4/gal and consumption was insignificant.The Library of Congress is digitizing old newspapers under its Chronicling America program.
The files are searchable making it possible to compare published dates with newspaper stories. The first reference to camphine appears in the July 11, 1838, issue of the NY Morning Herald. AVM Webb has invented a new lamp for camphine which offers bright light and economy. In the May 28, 1840, issue of the Baltimore Pilot and Transcript, T. Palmer & Co. has camphine oil lamps for sale. He claims 13,000 are in use in New York City. Later he claims exclusive availability of camphine lamps.
Kerosene (coal oil) ads began to appear in 1856. Typical is the one in the February 24, 1856, issue of the NY Herald. It stresses the advantages of kerosene over other lamp fuels. The Southerner of Tarboro, Edgecomb County, NC, reprints an extensive article from the New York Pathfinder on the benefits of kerosene in its Nov 7, 1857, issue.Cetyl alcohol
Cetyl alcohol , also known as hexadecan-1-ol and palmityl alcohol, is a fatty alcohol with the formula CH3(CH2)15OH. At room temperature, cetyl alcohol takes the form of a waxy white solid or flakes. The name cetyl derives from the whale oil (Latin: cetus) from which it was first isolated.Charles Pratt
Charles Pratt (October 2, 1830 – May 4, 1891) was an American businessman and philanthropist. Pratt was a pioneer of the U.S. petroleum industry, and he established his kerosene refinery Astral Oil Works in Brooklyn, New York. He then lived with his growing family in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. He recruited Henry H. Rogers into his business, forming Charles Pratt and Company in 1867. Seven years later, Pratt and Rogers agreed to join John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil.
An advocate of education, Pratt founded and endowed the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, now a renowned art college. He and his children built country estates in Glen Cove, New York, which became known as the Gold Coast in the 1920s on the North Shore of Long Island. In 1916, Standard Oil had a steamship tanker, the first of its class, built at Newport News, Virginia, and it was named in honor of Pratt.Great New York City Fire of 1845
The Great New York City Fire of 1845 broke out on July 19, 1845. The fire started in a whale oil and candle manufacturing establishment and quickly spread to other wooden structures in Lower Manhattan. It reached a warehouse on Broad Street where combustible saltpeter was stored and caused a massive explosion that spread the fire even farther.Harriet Hoxie
Harriet Hoxie was an 1851 clipper in the California trade. She was known for carrying cargoes of whale oil from Honolulu, and for importing the first Brown Leghorn chickens to the United States.Marine mammals as food
Marine mammals are a food source in many countries around the world. Historically, they were hunted by coastal people, and in the case of aboriginal whaling, still are. This sort of subsistence hunting was on a small scale and produced only localised effects. Dolphin drive hunting continues in this vein, from the South Pacific to the North Atlantic. The commercial whaling industry and the maritime fur trade, which had devastating effects on marine mammal populations, did not focus on the animals as food, but for other resources, namely whale oil and seal fur.
Today, the consumption of marine mammals is much reduced. However, a 2011 study found that the number of humans eating them, from a surprisingly wide variety of species, is increasing. According to the study’s lead author, Martin Robards, "Some of the most commonly eaten animals are small cetaceans like the lesser dolphins... That was a surprise since only a decade ago there had only been only scattered reports of this happening".Milford Haven Museum
Milford Haven Museum is a maritime and heritage museum in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire. Opened in 1991, it has a heavy focus on the maritime history of the town, with exhibitions which explore the fishing and oil industries in the area. The collection also contains information relating to the railway industry in the area, Milford at war, the shipbuilding industry and the Liquefied Natural Gas process. Summer 2013 saw the arrival of a rare Bronze Age wooden trough, discovered locally at St Botolphs in 2006.The museum is located centrally in the docks area, and is housed in the town's oldest building, the Custom House, which dates back to 1797.
A Grade II listed building made of rubble stone, it was designed by Swansea architect, Jernigan, and built for the storage of whale oil. In 2009 the museum was awarded national quality museum standard.Oil
An oil is any nonpolar chemical substance that is a viscous liquid at ambient temperatures and is both hydrophobic (does not mix with water, literally "water fearing") and lipophilic (mixes with other oils, literally "fat loving"). Oils have a high carbon and hydrogen content and are usually flammable and surface active.
The general definition of oil includes classes of chemical compounds that may be otherwise unrelated in structure, properties, and uses. Oils may be animal, vegetable, or petrochemical in origin, and may be volatile or non-volatile. They are used for food (e.g., olive oil), fuel (e.g., heating oil), medical purposes (e.g., mineral oil), lubrication (e.g. motor oil), and the manufacture of many types of paints, plastics, and other materials. Specially prepared oils are used in some religious ceremonies and rituals as purifying agents.Sandar
Sandar (until 1932 named Sandeherred) is a former municipality in Vestfold county (Norwegian: fylke), Norway.
Sandar was established as a municipality January 1, 1838 (see formannskapsdistrikt). It was merged with Sandefjord and became its northeastern suburb on January 1, 1968.
Sandar was, basically, the rural part of the current municipality, although it had its share of industry, too, mostly located close to the former border between the two municipalities. Thus many famous corporations now associated with Sandefjord had their origins in Sandar, e.g. Jotun, Framnæs Mekaniske Værksted and Sandar Fabrikker (a chemical plant dedicated to refining whale oil).
With the merger, the combined district took the name of the much smaller town and, effectively, made Sandar disappear from history.Ship chandler
A ship chandler (or ship's chandler) is a retail dealer who specialises in supplies or equipment for ships, known as ship's stores.
For traditional sailing ships, items that could be found in a chandlery might include sail-cloth, rosin, turpentine, tar, pitch (resin), linseed oil, whale oil, tallow, lard, varnish, twine, rope and cordage, hemp, oakum, tools (hatchet, axe, hammer, chisel, planes, lantern, nail, spike, boat hook, caulking iron, hand pump, marlinspike), brooms, mops, galley supplies, leather goods, and paper. In the days of sail ship chandlers on remote islands, such as St. Helena, were responsible for delivering re-supplies of water and fresh produce (fruit and vegetables) to stave off scurvy.
The ship chandlery business was central to the existence and the social and political dynamics of ports and their waterfront areas.Today's chandlers deal more in goods typical for fuel-powered commercial ships, such as oil tankers, container ships, and bulk carriers. They supply the crew's food, ship's maintenance supplies, cleaning compounds, rope, et cetera. The advantage of a ship's crew using a chandler is that they do not have to find stores in the town they have landed in, nor hold that local currency – assuming they are let out of the dock compound by the immigration authorities. Typically, the ship owner has a line of credit with the chandler and is billed for anything delivered to the crew of his ship. Chandlers are supplied by merchants close to wherever they happen to be.
Their distinguishing feature is the high level of service demanded and the short time required to fill and deliver their special orders. Because commercial ships discharge and turn around quickly, delay is expensive and the services of a dependable ship chandler are urgent.Sperm oil
Sperm oil is a waxy liquid obtained from sperm whales. It is a clear, yellowish liquid with a very faint odor. Sperm oil has a different composition from common whale oil, obtained from rendered blubber. Although it is traditionally called an "oil", it is technically a liquid wax. It is composed of wax esters with a small proportion of triglycerides, an ester of an unsaturated fatty acid and a branched-chain fatty alcohol. It is a natural antioxidant and heat-transfer agent. Through catalytic reaction, it carries phosphorus and sulfur derivatives providing anti-wear and friction modification. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, sperm oil was prized as an illuminant for its bright, odorless flame and as a lubricant for its low viscosity and stability. It was supplanted in the late 19th century by less expensive alternatives such as kerosene and petroleum-based lubricants. With the 1987 international ban on whaling, sperm oil is no longer legally sold.The oil from bottlenose whales was sometimes called "Arctic sperm oil". It was cheaper and inferior to true sperm oil.Wamsutta Oil Refinery
Wamsutta Oil Refinery was established around 1861 in McClintocksville in Venango County near Oil City, Pennsylvania, in the United States. It was the first business enterprise of Henry Huttleston Rogers (1840–1909), who became a famous capitalist, businessman, industrialist, financier, and philanthropist.Whale Oil Row
Whale Oil Row is a collection of four nearly identical, high quality Greek Revival houses standing side-by-side at 105-119 Huntington Street in New London, Connecticut. All four were built for developer Ezra Chappel between 1835 and 1845 by Charles Henry Boebe and exemplify the wealth and taste of New London's whaling-funded upper class. The group of houses was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.Whaling in Seychelles
Whaling in Seychelles was established in the early 19th century, coming largely to a close by 1915 due to declining prices for sperm whale oil, as well as the lack of materials and freight congestion due to the onset of World War I. The primary quarry, sperm whales, were generally caught near Bird and Denis Islands, and towed to a whaling station on Saint Anne.Whaling in the United Kingdom
Commercial whaling in Britain began late in the 16th century and continued after the 1801 formation of the United Kingdom and intermittently until the middle of the 20th century. The trade was broadly divided into two branches. The northern fishery involved hunting the bowhead whale off the coast of Greenland and adjacent islands. The southern fishery was activity anywhere else, including in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and off the Antarctic. The Sperm whale, the Southern right whale and Humpback whale were the main target species in South Sea whaling. The industry went on to become a profitable national enterprise and a source of skilled mariners for the Royal Navy in times of war.
Modern whaling, using factory ships and catchers fitted with bow-mounted cannons that fired explosive harpoons, continued into the 20th century and was mainly focused on the Antarctic and nearby islands, where shore stations had been established. The collapse of whale stocks in the 1960s, due to overfishing, saw Britain abandon the industry after three and a half centuries of involvement.Whaling in the United States
Commercial whaling in the United States dates to the 17th century in New England. The industry peaked in 1846–1852, and New Bedford, Massachusetts, sent out its last whaler, the John R. Mantra, in 1927.The Whaling industry was engaged with the production of three different raw materials: whale oil, spermaceti oil, and whalebone. Whale oil was the result of "trying-out" whale blubber by heating in water. It was a primary lubricant for machinery, whose expansion through the Industrial Revolution depended upon before the development of petroleum-based lubricants in the second half of the 19th century.
Spermaceti oil is sourced solely from the head-case of sperm whales. It is processed by pressing the material rather than "trying-out". It was more expensive than whale oil, and highly regarded for its use in illumination, by burning the oil on cloth wicks or by processing the material into spermaceti candles, which were expensive and prized for their clean-burning properties. Chemically, spermaceti is more accurately classified as a wax rather than an oil.
Whalebone was baleen plates from the mouths of the baleen whales. Whalebone was commercially used to manufacture materials that required light but strong and thin supports. Women's corsets, umbrella and parasol ribs, crinoline petticoats, buggy whips and collar-stiffeners were commonly made of whalebone. Public records of exports of these three raw materials from the United States date back to 1791, and products of New England whaling represented a major portion of the American GDP for nearly 100 years.Aboriginal whaling both pre-dates and post-dates this, as the US uses the exception granted by the International Whaling Commission which allows some Native Americans to hunt for subsistence or cultural reasons. Catches have increased from 18 whales in 1985 to over 70 whales in 2010. The latest IWC quota regarding the subsistence hunting of the bowhead whale allows for up to 336 to be killed in the period 2013–2018. Residents of the United States are also subject to the federal bans against whaling as well.