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. The whaling industry ranked ninth in the United States 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 many sources including logbooks, journals, ship registers, newspapers, business papers, and custom house records. (Learn more → An Overview of North American Whaling.)

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

At the heart of the current site are three databases, one describing every known American offshore whaling voyage from the 1700s through the 1920s (more than 15,000 voyages and 2,500 vessels), another transcribing location information from more than 1,400 whaling logbooks, and the third containing crew lists for more than 5,300 voyages.

In the future we plan to link additional data sets to the core databases, to encourage other institutions with significant holdings of whaling history artifacts to link them using universal whaling history identifiers, and to invite scholars, students and the general public to use the data and share their works through our gallery. We also hope to collaborate with others to provide access to whaling history information from other countries, such as the British Southern Whale Fishery database.

  • Available now: American Offshore Whaling Voyages, including crew lists and voyage track maps based on logbook data.
  • Coming next: Links to digitized logbooks and whaling artifacts in museum collections, whale distribution maps, and new ways to embed and share Whaling History content in projects, presentations, and exhibitions.


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.

John Taylor Arms, Whaling scene, cutting in blubber, 1925, etching and aquatint. Mystic Seaport, 2004.21.3
  • 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. All of the databases are available as downloads for use with other tools and systems.
  • Submit corrections. The databases will be updated annually. Additions and corrections are welcome for both Voyages and Logbooks.
  • 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

    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 →

    Honolulu, Nov 2nd 1859

    When my older brother died last month, his widow sent me a box of family papers, much of which I was totally ignorant of. Among them was a letter dated Nov 2nd 1859, from Honolulu, Sandwich Islands.


“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.


“Getting started”