Chapter 33 - Commercial whaling


Chapter 33 - Commercial whaling


Thewissen JGM; George JC


The Bowhead Whale




The commercial hunt of the four stocks of bowhead whales by the nations of Europe and North America commenced in 1540 and came to an effective end at the start of World War I. At that time, all four stocks had been driven to near extinction. Whalers from many nations were involved, but the most important ones were those from Basque Country, the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. The Spitsbergen stock was the first to be depleted, followed by the West Greenland–East Canada stock (including whaling efforts in Hudson Bay and Strait of Belle Isle) and, finally, the Okhotsk and Bering–Chukchi–Beaufort stocks. Competition with other products (e.g., gaslight and petroleum), political factors (e.g., US Civil War), and changes in demands (e.g., women’s fashion) caused a waxing and waning of the whaling industry, but the decrease in yield eventually stopped the hunt. Native peoples across the circumpolar Arctic suffered greatly even though commercial whalers sometimes had good relations with native people they encountered. Despite any possible good intentions, the end result was, on balance, negative and led to major changes in the indigenous cultures it affected.


Book Chapter

NEOMED College

NEOMED College of Medicine

NEOMED Department

Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology

Update Year & Number

Jan to Aug list 2021


Thewissen JGM; George JC, “Chapter 33 - Commercial whaling,” NEOMED Bibliography Database, accessed May 25, 2024,