A javelin used to pierce whales, in the Greenland and South Sea fisheries. It has a broad, flat, triangular, barbed head, well sharpened, to penetrate easily, and a shank about two feet long, to the extremity of which is fastened a long line, which lies carefully coiled in the boat, in such a manner that it may run out easily, and without entangling. As soon as the boat has come within a competent distance of the whale, the harpooner launches his instrument, and the fish, immediately he is wounded, descends with amazing rapidity, carrying the harpoon along with him, and a considerable length of the line, which is purposely let down to give him room to dive. Being soon exhausted with the fatigue and loss of blood, he re-ascends, in order to breathe, where he presently expires, and floats upon the surface of the water; when they approach the carcase by drawing in the whale line. This line is from sixty to seventy fathoms long, and made of the finest and softest hemp, that it may slip easily. To prevent the boat taking fire by the friction of the line against it, it is constantly watered as it passes out.

The harpoon is also employed to catch sturgeons, and other large fish.

About a century ago, guns were tried for discharging harpoons, on the presumption that they could strike the whales at greater distances than by hand. They were tried for several seasons, but their employment has been ever since abandoned.