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William Bradford, The Port of New Bedford from Crow Island, 1854, oil painting. New Bedford Whaling Museum, 1975.18

Whale oil provided fuel for lighting and lubrication for the gears of the industrial revolution, until it was replaced by petroleum products in the mid-nineteenth century. In the United States the whaling industry ranked ninth in overall value to the economy at its height in the mid-1840s. The documentation of that industry is extensive; the data presented here combines information from many sources including logbooks, journals, ship registers, newspapers, business papers, and custom house records.

We hope this site will be useful to a wide range of persons, from scholars of the industry, to family historians searching for ancestors, to teachers and their students.

Whaling History Data

Bufford, J. H. & Russell, Benjamin, "Abandonment of the Whalers in The Arctic Ocean September 1871" - Plate 3, lithograph. Mystic Seaport Museum, 1942.3

At the heart of the current site are five interconnected databases. Three of them relate to American offshore whaling: one describing every known voyage from the 1700s through the 1920s, another transcribing location information from whaling logbooks, and the third containing crew lists for these voyages. Two of the databases relate to the British Southern Whale Fishery (1775–1859): one describing every known voyage, whaling or sealing, to the south of Britain, and one containing the corresponding crew lists.

Participate

John Taylor Arms, Whaling scene, cutting in blubber, 1925, etching and aquatint. Mystic Seaport, 2004.21.3

Please join us in telling the stories of Whaling History.

  • Explore the voyage data. Each database has a data viewer that enables you to interact with the data, search for people, vessels and voyages of interest, and then print, copy, or export what you’ve found.
  • Use our data. Most of the databases are available as downloads for use with other tools and systems.
  • Submit corrections. The databases will be updated annually. Suggested additions and corrections are welcome.
  • Contribute your data. We are actively interested in incorporating additional whaling history data sets. Please contact us.
  • Link your artifacts. In the next phase of this project, museums, libraries and other institutions will be able to link objects in their collections to our databases, enriching their catalogs and connecting them to related objects elsewhere.
  • Add your whaling history project to the Gallery. If you have used Whaling History data in a project, we would be interested in featuring your project in our Gallery. Please contact us.

Project Gallery

    Oil & Bone: American Ports in the Golden Age of Yankee Whaling

    This interactive map uses AOWV data to illustrate the economic impact of whale products returned to America’s port cities from 1804 to 1876. Data visualizations and contextual narratives combine to tell the story of the industry’s ebbs and flows.

    Spatial and Seasonal Distribution of American Whaling and Whales in the Age of Sail

    This map showing the spatial distribution of American Whaling and Whales in the 17th to 19th century was created using the AOWL data.

    Townsend’s Whaling Charts

    From Townsend CH (1935) The distribution of certain whales as shown by logbook records of American whaleships. 19. Zoologica (NY): : 1–50+6 Charts. For a dataset that corresponds in part to these charts, visit Townsend’s Logbook Data → For more information and chart scans, visit WCS Canada →

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“Project Gallery”

Getting started

    The Data Viewer Interface

    Each database has a data viewer—a tabular display window to interact with the data—and all of the data viewers share a common set of features.

    Finding a person

    There are at least five different ways a person might appear in the American whaling voyages data: as a whaling master, a crew member, a master's wife, an agent, or by having a whaling vessel named after him or her.

    Finding a whaling vessel

    To find a whaling vessel, begin by searching its name in the Voyage or Vessel column in the Voyages database. If you do not know its name, search by whatever information you have.

    Working with the Voyages database

    The American Offshore Whaling Voyages database uses the same interactive viewer as the other databases. Start with: The Data Interface.  Then come back here for tips and techniques for exploring the Voyages data.

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“Getting started”

News & Announcements

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“News & Announcements”