Read CATCHING WHALES of Jack Mason‚ The Old Sailor, free online book, by Theodore Thinker, on

I went in a whale-ship once. I was gone from home that time more than three years. When we came back, we had our large ship all full of oil and whalebone. We got the oil and the whalebone out of the whales which we had caught. Whales, you know, are very large fish. They sometimes get two or three hundred barrels of oil from one single whale.

I never shall forget what a long chase I had with a whale once. Shall I tell you about it, little friend? There was a man in the ship who was looking out for whales. In a whale-ship there is always one man who gets up as high as he can, and keeps a bright look-out all round for whales. Whales do not stay under water all the time. The trout, and the shad, and the eel, and most other kinds of fish can stay under water all the time. They cannot live out of the water only a few minutes, and I suppose they feel almost as bad out of the water as we do in it. But the whale wants to come up to the top of the water. He wants to come up to breathe. Well, all at once, the man who was looking out the day I speak of, when I had such a run, sung out as loud as he could, “There she blows!” We all knew what that meant. That is what they always say when they see a whale. It means, “There is a whale come up to breathe.” This whale was a great way off. I should think he was a mile from the ship.

Well, the captain told some of us to get into a boat, and to go out after the whale. We did so. The boats are always kept ready, and it takes only a minute to let the boat down, and start off. We rowed as fast as we could, until we came up near where the whale was lying. Oh, what a large whale! As soon as the boat got near enough, one man threw two harpoons at the whale, and they both stuck fast in his flesh. A harpoon is a long and sharp iron, made like a spear, so that when it strikes the whale, it goes in deep, and you cannot pull it out. The harpoon is fastened to a long rope, and the rope is tied to the boat.

As soon as the whale felt these irons in his side, he began to run. I never knew before that a whale could swim so fast. It took him only a very little while to run out with all the loose rope; and our boat went through the water pretty fast, you may be sure. I was afraid the whale would take it into his head to dive down towards the bottom. If he had gone down, we should have gone with him, unless we could have cut the rope. But he did not go down. Away we went, as fast as if we had been on a railroad. He was all the time taking us further from the ship. “Well,” we thought, “what is going to become of us!” The whale did not seem to care any thing about that. I suppose he thought that was our look-out, and not his.

But the fellow got tired out by and by. He had bled so much, that he began to grow faint. At last he went so slow, that we rowed up to him, and stabbed him with a long knife. He died pretty soon after that, and we got more than two hundred barrels of oil out of him.

Catching whales seems a cruel business to you. It is a cruel business. I never liked it. But somebody must do it. The butcher who kills oxen, and sheep, and calves, has to be cruel. But we must have butchers. We must have people to kill whales, though you never will catch me chasing after a whale again, as long as my name is Jack Mason.

Whales do not always run like the one I have told you about. Sometimes they fight. After they are struck with the harpoon, they lift their tail, or fluke, as they call it, and strike the boat so hard as to dash it in pieces. Then the poor sailors have to swim to the ship if they can. If they cannot, and if there is no other boat near them that they can get into, they must drown.

I once saw a whale that had been struck with a harpoon come up close to the ship, and give it such a blow with his fluke, that he tore the copper off at a great rate, and broke a thick plank in half a dozen pieces.