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Whaling Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Lauren Scott

Lauren has a Master's degree in special education and has taught for more than 10 years.

This lesson introduces the history of whaling and discusses its impacts on whale populations. You will also learn about efforts to protect whales from hunting.

Ancient History

People living near the sea have long hunted whales for various uses. Evidence suggests that whaling started in Norway about 4,000 years ago, but it may have started sooner in other parts of the world. In the early days of whaling, people mostly took whales that had washed up on the beach or hunted whales that were close to shore. Almost every part of the whale was used for food, clothing, or building materials.

Commercial Whaling

Whaling slowly spread around the world, and by the 1600s, had become a major source of income in what is now the northeastern United States. Commercial whalers processed whale blubber, or fat, to extract oil, and the oil was then sold as fuel. Other parts of the whale were used to make corsets and hoop skirts. The island of Nantucket, about 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, became the whaling capital of the world in the 1700s. Local whalers started hunting near shore but had to branch out once the whales began to disappear.

Whaling was often depicted in art.
whaling history

Whaling trips often lasted 2-3 years and were very dangerous. Sailors were lost to storms, diseases, and even whale attacks.

Developments in shipbuilding and hunting technology boosted the whaling industry in the 1800s and early 1900s. Once restricted to smaller, slower species, whalers could now hunt larger and faster whales. The whaling industry was happy about this, but it spelled disaster for whales.

Whales in Trouble

The whaling industry took a huge toll on whale populations all over the world. Many species, like right whales and blue whales, were nearly driven to extinction. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) formed in 1946 to keep track of whaling and to prevent overhunting. The United States banned whaling altogether in 1971, and the IWC placed a moratorium, or stoppage, on whaling in the 1980s. Some countries were against the moratorium, but most agreed to stop whaling.

As of 2016, eleven whale species, including humpback and blue whales, remain on the endangered species list, according to information compiled by SeaWorld. Others, like the California gray whale, have bounced back. Scientists are concerned that some whale populations will never recover.

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