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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

This week, facts about... whales and some whaling history.


CURWOOD: March was a bad month for Julius Caesar and it hasn't been much kinder to whales. For instance, in March 1644, men of Southampton, Long Island, began the first organized whaling expeditions in the colonies. Beached whales were their early targets. Then, learning from the Native Americans, who had been hunting whales for thousands of years, the colonists took to longboats and harpooned the docile right whale by the thousands. Two hundred years later, whaling was done in ships far out at sea. Whalers had figured out how to turn blubber into oil while still on the ship, allowing them to hunt for much longer periods. During whaling's peak in the mid-19th century, one expedition could last up to 10 years. It was also during this period that 2 Germans patented the first electric whale-killing machine in, yep, March of 1852. The hand-cranked device was supposed to deliver a jolt of electricity down a copper wire attached to a harpoon. But even the strongest men could only crank out about 100 watts, enough to light a bulb but not enough to harm, let alone kill, a whale. And finally, in the March whale chronicles, the year 1947 saw whalers in the South Atlantic kill the largest animal ever on record. The 190-ton, 90-foot female blue whale had a heart that weighed more than 1,500 pounds. But that was nothing compared to her tongue. It weighed nearly 5 tons. And as legend has it, that mighty tongue wagged the final warning to all the giants of the deep: Fellow whales beware the Tides of March. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.



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