Salt & Storm: 19th Century Whaling

Posted September 8, 2014 by Sara | Novel Novice 1 Comment

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Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper takes place during the downturn of the whaling industry in the United States in the late 1860s. As we wait for the book’s official release later this month, here’s a bit more about the real-life world of characters Avery and Tane.

Whaling in the United States

1024px-Walfang_zwischen_1856_und_1907The first whalers in the U.S. were Native Americans on the Northwestern and Northeastern coasts — who usually hunted whales using longboats and harpoons.

As an industry, whaling in the U.S. dates back to the 17th century in New England. The industry continued to expand through the American Revolution and beyond, peaking between 1846-1852.

Despite being largely outlawed around the world, and conservation efforts, whaling still persists today — even in the United States, with indigenous tribes allowed to continue the practice under the International Whaling Commission’s exception for Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling.

Purposes of 19th Century Whaling

JonahspermBesides the use of whale meat as food, whaling served many purposes for people in the 1800s.

Throughout the 19th century, whale oil was primarily used for lighting homes and businesses (before the advent of petroleum and kerosene). Whale oil was also used as a lubricant for machinery.

Whalebone – or “baleen,” the long bristle-light keratin strips that hang from the top of whales’ mouths – was used to produce a number of common items, including buggy whips, fishing poles, corset stays, and dress hoops. Plastic, fiber glass, and other synthetic materials are now used for these items.

Actual whales’ bones were also used sometimes for carving or cutlery handles. Many sailors also carved onto the teeth of whales and filled in the designs with ink, a technique known as scrimshaw.

Geographical Landmarks

new bedfordNew Bedford, Massachusetts was one of the most important whaling ports in the world during the 19th century. Part of New Bedford’s importance in the whaling industry came from the invention of the toggling harpoon by resident Lewis Temple. In Salt & Storm, Kulper based the fictional town of New Bishop on New Bedford.

Other major ports in the U.S. whaling industry included Nantucket, Massachusetts and New London, Connecticut.

Despite the decline of the whaling industry in the 1860s, the industry did not die out completely for many years to come. New Bedford sent out its last whaler in 1927.

Downturn of the Whaling Industry

1871_Whaling_DisasterAs noted in Kulper’s author’s note at the end of Salt & Storm, the whaling industry in the U.S. took a major decline after the Civil War. Some of the contributing factors include:

  • The discovery of petroleum & kerosene as an alternative to whale oil
  • The Whaling Disaster of 1871 – in which 33 U.S. whaling ships were trapped off the northern coast of Alaska and eventually abandoned (and the overall increasing dangers of whaling conditions in the Arctic); amazingly, no one died during the disaster of 1871, but it dealt a major blow to the whaling industry
  • The California Gold Rush (which lead to many whalers quitting to head west in search of riches)

More recently, environmentalists and conservationists have pushed to continue the ban on whaling to protect the endangered whale species. The say that whaling is both cruel and unsustainable. Some pro-whaling countries, such as Japan, Norway, and Iceland are still pushing to have the ban lifted.



Sara | Novel Novice

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