Whale and Porpoise Oil Samples

Whale and Porpoise Oil Samples

Whales were hunted for the oil rendered from their blubber. It was a fine oil,ideal for lubricating delicate machinery, and burned cleanly in lamps. Beginning in the mid-19th century, William F. Nye Company of New Bedford refined and processed whale and porpoise oil, specializing in oil for watches and delicate machinery. They were still selling whale and porpoise oil in the 1940s. 

Oil was not the only product of the whale hunt. Spermaceti, a waxy white solid harvested from sperm whales, was made into high-grade candles, and ambergris (found in their digestive tracts) was used in perfumes, Baleen, the long strips of tough, flexible protein that some whales use to strain krill, the microscopic animals on which they feed, from the water, was made into corset stays, buggy whips, and umbrella ribs in the late 19th century.

Declining whale populations, changing fashions, and the discovery of petroleum spelled the end of the whaling industry, but the fine whale oil was still preferred for some specialized uses, such as machine oil. Hunting whales, banned worldwide in 1986, is still practiced legally according to tradition by some Native Alaskan peoples and illegally by poachers.


Title Whale and Porpoise Oil Samples
Date 1944
Type Object
Credit Gift of Wilbur Sherman
Ref No 1944.020.007
Thematic Collection 100 Years, 100 Stories: Harvesting the Sea
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