This subject being so intimately connected with our manufactures, we insert the following account of it. In the Greenland fishery by Europeans, every ship is provided with six boats, to each of which belong six men, for rowing the boat, and a harpooner, whose busiuess is to strike the whale with his harpoon. Two of these boats are kept constantly on the watch, at some distance from the ship, fastened to pieces of ice, and are released by others every four hours. As soon as a whale is perceived, both the boats set out in pursuit of it, and if either of them can come up before the whale finally descends, - which is known by his throwingup his tail, - the harpooner discharges his harpoon at him. As soon as the whale is struck, the men set up one of their oars in the middle of the boat, as a signal to those in the ship; upon which all the others set out to the assistance of the first. The whale, finding himself wounded, swims off with prodigious velocity. Sometimes he descends perpendicularly, and sometimes he goes off horizontally, at a small depth below the surface. The rope which is fastened to the harpoon is about 200 fathoms long, and properly coiled up, that it may be freely given out as there is a demand for it.
At first, the velocity with which this rope runs over the side of the boat is so great, that it is wetted to prevent its taking fire: but in a short time the strength of the whale begins to fail, and the fishermen, instead of letting out more rope, strive as much as possible to pull back what has been given already, though they always find themselves necessitated to yield at last to the efforts of the animal, to prevent his sinking their boat. If he runs out the 200 fathoms of line contained in one boat, that belonging to another is immediately fastened to the end of the first, and so on; and there have been instances where all the rope belonging to the six boats has been necessary, though half that quantity is seldom required. The whale cannot stay long below water, but again comes up to blow; and, being now much fatigued and wounded, stays longer above water than usual. This gives another boat time to come up with him, and he is again struck with a harpoon- He again descends, but with less force than before; and when he comes up again, is generally incapable of descending, but suffers himself to be wounded and killed with long lances which the men are provided with for that purpose. He is known to be near death when he spouts up the water, deeply tinged with blood.
The whale, when dead, is lashed alongside the ship. They then lay it on one side, and put two ropes, one at the head and the other at the place of the tail, which, together with the fins, is struck off, as soon as he is taken, to keep those extremities above water. On the off-side of the whale are two boats, to receive the pieces of fat, utensils, and men, that might otherwise fall into the water on that side. These precautions being taken, three men with irons at their feet, to prevent slipping, get on the whale, and begin to cut out pieces of about three feet thick and eight long, which are hauled up at the capstan or windlass. When the fat is all got off, they cut off the whalebone of the upper jaw with an axe. Before they cut, they are all lashed to keep them firm; which also facilitates the cutting, and prevents them from falling into the sea; when on board, five or six of them are bundled together and properly stowed, and after all is got off, the carcase is turned adrift, and devoured by the white bears, who are very fond of it. In proportion as the large pieces of fat are cut off, the rest of the crew are employed in slicing them smaller, and picking out all the lean.
When this is prepared, they stow it in under the deck, where it lies till the fat of all the whales taken during the fishery is on board; then cutting it still smaller, they put it up in tubs in the hold. At the end of the season they return home, where the fat is boiled and pressed, to give out the oil. (See a press for this purpose, under the Article Oil.)
Among the Kurile islands, which are situated near the southern extremity of the peninsula of Kamtschatka, the whales are most abundant about the beginning of autumn. At that time the inhabitants embark in their canoes, and search for them in places where they generally find them asleep on the surface of the water. When they are so fortunate as to find one in this situation, they approach with the least possible noise, and when they have come within the proper distance, they pierce him with poisoned arrows; and although these wounds seem extremety slight, they are said in a short time to occasion great pain. The whale thus wounded, moves about furiously, blows with great violence, and soon dies.
When the whale returns to Greenland, the fishermen equip themselves with sharp knives, harpoons, spears, and arrows, with a number of large skins of the sea-dog, inflated. Thus equipped, they launch their canoes. The harpoon which they usually employ is pointed with bone, or a sharp stone; some, indeed, have harpoons of iron, which they procure from the Danes, by barter for the oil or fat of the whale. The scarcity of iron and wood makes these articles extremely valuable to Greenlanders, and has excited their ingenuity, to avoid the risk of losing them. For this purpose an inflated bladder of dog's skin is attached to the harpoon; so that, in case it should not reach the whale, when they attempt to strike, it may float on the water and be recovered. They approach them with astonishing boldness, and endeavour to fix, by means of their harpoons, which they throw at his body, some of the skins inflated with air; for, notwithstanding the enormous bulk of this animal, two or three of these skins, by the resistance which they make to the water, on account of their diminished specific gravity, "greatly impede his attempts at plunging into the deep.
Having by this means succeeded in arresting his progress, they approach nearer, and with their lances pierce his body, till he becomes languid and at last dies. The fishermen then plunge into the sea with their skin jackets filled with air, and swim to their prize; and, floating on the surface of the water, they cut off with their knives, from every part of the whale, the fat or blubber, which is thrown into the canoes; and notwithstanding the rudeness of their instruments, their dexterity is such, that they can extract from the mouth the greatest part of the whalebone.
The boldest and most astonishing mode of fishing the whale, is that which is practised by the Indians on the coast of Florida. When the whale appears, they fasten to their bodies two pieces of wood and a mallet; and these instruments, with their canoe, form the whole of their fishing equipage. When they approach the whale they throw themselves into the water, and, swimming directly towards him, they have the address to get on his neck, taking care to avoid the stroke of his fin or tail. When the whale first spouts, the Indian introduces one of the pieces of wood into the opening of one of the blow-holes, and drives it home with the mallet. The whale thus attacked, instantly plunges, and carries the Indian with him, who keeps fast hold of the animal; the whale, which has now only one blow-hole, soon returns to the surface of the water to respire; and if the Indian succeeds in fixing the other piece of wood into the second blow-hole, the whale again descends to the bottom, but a moment after reappears on the surface, where he remains motionless, and immediately expires, by the interruption of the function of respiration.