Posted by: abea7037 | December 7, 2011

America’s Initial Industry or, The Whale: With Regard to Florida

Philip Hoare speaks of whaling as America’s initial  industry, referring to whaling vessels as “nineteenth-century oil [tankers],” in The Whale (132). He asserts that “[the] industrial fortunes of America were built on the whale fishery” (124). I sought to discover to what extent this industry impacted our North Florida shores.

I couldn’t find any information on our Jacksonville’s Mayport fisheries regarding whaling, as they bring in mostly shrimp, but I did come across an interesting NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) article entitled “History of Whaling In and Near North Carolina.” The article has a section regarding whaling in adjacent and nearby states, including Florida. The NOAA “found no evidence of an organized whale fishery on the Florida coast,” though they did note how “pelagic whalers […] occasionally killed right whales near [Fernandina] in the late 19th century” (22). This came as a relief to me, in part because I have seen right whales off the coast of Crescent Beach and they are the most majestic, peaceful creatures that I have ever seen. North Carolina and other Eastern states have a particularly rich history in whaling though.

The article talks about how “Florida is the only southeastern state with evidence of an aboriginal ( whale fishery” but informs us that “North Carolina is the only state south of New Jersey known to have had a long and well established shore whaling industry” (1). It is indeed unsettling to know that to know that whaling went on so close to where I call home. NOAA found little evidence of whaling in these areas after 1916.

According to the article, oil from the whales caught was sold anywhere from $0.25 to $1.05 per gallon in the late 19th to early 20th century (20). This made me think of Hoare and his assertion that whaling was America’s first oil industry. The whalers in the these areas were motivated by money, just as the early New England whalers were. This is where whaling took a turn for the worst, in my opinion. Pelagic whalers hunted whales for resources and food to help them survive, not for a profit.

Hoare makes a compelling argument about our nation and modern society as a whole. Our focus, perhaps since the onset of whaling, is inescapably monetary and material. We see a profitable venture and run it into the ground. It is a polarizing canon when these ventures destroy living organisms. Where will we stop? We can breed more cows and chickens, but not whales, the most mystic of all creatures; sentient and social. Current whaling efforts operate under the veil of tradition and assert how they use the whales as a food source, but killing these creatures to sell their meat as a delicacy doesn’t cut it.

Our current principle resource is fossil fuel. Oil companies will do whatever it takes, drill wherever they please to tap it. It is a different venture than whaling, in that we are not killing live, intelligent creatures, but we are still destroying a living thing: our planet.

Perhaps early whaling efforts did lead to, or at least influence our current oil industry. Both show our uniquely human desire for wealth though. We will kill and destroy our planet and its inhabitants for profit.


*NOAA Technical Report NMFS 65, History of Whaling In and Near North Carolina, Randall R. Reeves, Edward Mitchell. March 1988.


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