Whale by-products

Into the large cavity of a sperm whale's head, a crew member dipped and filled a special bucket with spermaceti, a high-quality, waxy substance that produced long lasting and almost smokeless candles. This whale by-product fetched a particularly high price and was prized by whalers. A typical sperm whale also had thirty six teeth that were harvested by crew members to make scrimshaw or carvings during their free time. Right, bowhead, and humpback whales had neither spermaceti nor teeth, but the baleen in their jaws had many uses. The strong, pliable nature of baleen made it useful for corset stays, brushes, and carriage whips.

A most valuable product occasionally taken from sperm whales and highly prized when found, was ambergris. It formed in the whale's intestine and was used in the manufacture of perfumes. Crews sometimes found the waxy substance floating in the water around a dead whale. If a whale appeared sick, cutters sliced along the whale's intestines looking for ambergris which was literally worth its weight in gold.

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Courtesy of the Trustees of the New Bedford Free Public Library