In 1948, a Japanese whaling fleet with 1,300 men set off for the Antarctic. There was an oil tanker, storage and processing ships and a 10,000 ton factory, the Hashidate Maru. Arriving, they quickly killed their first whale, a gigantic blue, one of the largest ever caught.
The animal’s tongue alone weighed three tons, and its heart was as big as a Volkswagen. Butchering the 300,000-pound carcass took 80 men four hours. And then they went out for more, using sonar, exploding harpoons and other high-tech killing devices. An efficient factory fleet was capable of taking as many as 70 whales in a day.
The blue whale is the largest animal known to exist, with no real natural predators, and owing to its great power and speed, it eluded the early whalers. But during the 20th century, 360,000 blue whales were destroyed, and it was estimated that by the 1960s only about 1,000 were left to swim the oceans.
The International Whaling Commission banned the hunting of the blue in 1966, and during the following decade illegal killing by the Soviets was finally stopped. Though it is no longer legally hunted anywhere, the blue whale remains endangered and total numbers are impossible to determine.
I spoke with Philip Hoare, author of “The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea,” on the following topics:
1. Anatomy of Leviathan
3. Processing the Whale
4. Global Industry
5. Swimming with Whales
To listen to the podcast, click here. To buy this book in North America, click here.
(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)