American Whaling Mapped

An animated visualization of Matthew Maury’s collection of data from logbooks of American whaling voyages. From Data narratives and structural histories: Melville, Maury, and American whaling by Ben Schmidt:

“Data visualizations are like narratives: they suggest interpretations, but don’t require them. A good data visualization, in fact, lets you see things the interpreter might have missed. This should make data visualization especially appealing to historians. Much of the historian’s art is turning dull information into compelling narrative; visualization is useful for us because it suggests new ways of making interesting the stories we’ve been telling all along. In particular: data visualization lets us make historical structures immediately accessible in the same way that narratives have let us do so for stories about individual agents.

“I’ve been looking at the ship’s logs that climatologists digitize because it’s a perfect case of forlorn data that might tell a more interesting story. My post on European shipping gives more of the details about how to make movies from ship’s logs, but this time I want to talk about why, using a new set with about a half-century of American vessels sailing around the world.

“To find something I might more usefully be able to discuss, I went through the biggest source of historical shipping records, the ICOADs collection, and pulled out the very first systematic collection of logbooks ever assembled: Matthew Maury’s collection of American shipping from about 1785 to 1860, assembled mostly before the Civil War.”

Read more →

Scottish Vessels Lost in the Arctic Bowhead Whale Fishery (1750–WWI)


Legend:  Hunt** =  East Greenland (EG), Davis Strait (DS), Newfoundland (NL), Cumberland Gulf (CG)

Note: For additional data, see Scottish Arctic Whaling. In the table below, click on a column heading to sort by that column. Click on an entry in the “Link to Whaling History” column to view voyage data for that vessel.

LostVesselSail/ SteamLink to Whaling HistoryPortHunt**Years WhalingTotal Seasons
1757Prince of WalessSS211EdinburghEG1753-75
1777Royal Bounty (1)sSS235EdinburghEG1752-7726
1782Dundee (1)sSS068DundeeEG1754-8229
1792Princess of Wales (1)sSS215DunbarEG1759-9233
1798Blessed EndeavoursSS031DunbarEG1753-9844
1804East LothiansSS074DunbarEG1785-180419
1808North StarsSS189Bo'nessDS1799-18088
1816Earl of FifesSS071BanffEG1814-163
1819Royal Bounty (2)sSS236EdinburghDS1785-181935
1819Thomas and AnnsSS269EdinburghDS1805-1915
1819Mary AnnsSS174DundeeDS1803-1917
1828Enterprize (1)sSS090PeterheadDS1824-85
1829Home CastlesSS124EdinburghDS1813-2917
1830Three BrotherssSS270DundeeDS1813-3018
1830Alexander (1)sSS014AberdeenDS1819-3012
1830Middleton (1)sSS177AberdeenDS1812-3019
1830Princess of Wales (2)sSS216AberdeenDS1813-3018
1830Resolution (1)sSS229PeterheadDS1813-3018
1832William YoungsSS288EdinburghDS1831-22
1835Middleton (2)sSS178AberdeenDS1813-3523
1852Joseph GreensSS147PeterheadEG1831-5221
1856Princess CharlottesSS212DundeeDS1820-5637
1857GypsysSSI 13PeterheadDS1855-73
1858HeroinesSSI 20DundeeDS1833-5811
1859Empress of IndiastSS087PeterheadEG18591
1860Enterprize (2)sSS091FraserburghEG1845-6016
1861St. AndrewsSS250AberdeenDS1813-6142
1862Chieftain (1)sSS045KirkcaldyDS1833-6230
1862Lord GambiersSS165KirkcaldyDS1853-6210
1862Alexander (2)sSS015DundeeDS1831-6232
1862Arctic (1)sSS023AberdeenCG1856-627
1862Resolution (2)sSS229PeterheadDS1830-6233
1863Dundee (2)stSS070DundeeDS1859-635
1868River TaystSS231DundeeDS18681
1869Alexander (3)stSS016DundeeDS1864-96
1874Arctic (2)stSS024DundeeDS1867-748
1874Tay (3)stSS261DundeeDS1858-7418
1879Our QueenstSS194DundeeDS18791
1882Jan Mayen (1)stSS135DundeeEG1860-8223
1886Jan Mayen (2)stSS136DundeeDS1875-8612
1887Arctic (3)stSS025DundeeDS1875-8713
1892Chieftain (2)stSS046DundeeEG1884-929
1899Polar StarstSS205DundeeCG1857-9938
1902Nova ZemblastSS190DundeeDS1875-190228

Dennis Wood Abstracts now searchable

Dennis Wood Abstracts of Whaling Voyages are brief handwritten summaries of whaling voyages–including vessel, owner & master; departure & arrival dates; reports during the voyage; oil & bone catch; and events of the voyage–compiled over more than forty years (1830–1874) by Dennis Wood, a merchant and whaling agent in New Bedford, and a director of the Mutual Marine Insurance Company. The abstracts were drawn from news reported in the Whalemen’s Shipping List and Merchants’ Transcript, and from letters, telegrams, and reports brought back by vessels.

The New Bedford Free Public Library has scanned the four volumes from its collection, containing more than 2,300 pages, and placed them on the Internet Archive. Judith Lund has updated 6,700 voyage records in the American Offshore Whaling Voyages database with volume and page references to the Abstracts, and now provides links directly to pages in the scanned volumes.

All searches on will now return references and links to relevant Dennis Wood abstracts, just as they provide links to crew lists and scanned log books. Or, you may search only within the Abstracts by selecting “Dennis Wood Abstracts of Whaling Voyages” from the “Explore” dropdown menu in the header of any page.

American and British Southern whaling data updated, 2021

The American Offshore Whaling database has been updated for 2021, adding more than 370 voyages as well as many corrections and updates to existing voyage entries. The added voyages are primarily from the 18th century, extracted from local newspapers.

The British Southern Whale Fishery databases have been thoroughly revised and updated with additional voyages, crew lists, and data corrections.

The Merrimac Journal Transcription Project

Voyage of the Whaler Merrimac

When the Journal arrived at the Custom House in August 2020, it was examined by Susan Tamulevich, Executive Director, and Laurie Deredita, librarian, who noted its fragile condition. Despite the temptation to start reading it, they decided that it would be prudent to handle the manuscript as little as possible. After an article appeared in the Day of New London, it became clear that there was a lot of local interest in this New London-based whaling journal and that it would be useful to have a transcription of the pages publicly available. To this end, Susan took photographs of each of the pages so that a transcriber could work from the images rather than the pages themselves.  Eventually, it was decided to “crowdsource” the task of transcribing to volunteer “scriveners.” With the Custom House closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like the perfect project for people interested in maritime history but stuck at home. All of the sending, receiving and editing of documents would take place electronically.

Susan’s call for volunteers received local and national media attention and she was nearly overwhelmed with responses from people all over the country and abroad who wanted to try their hand at transcribing. In early January 2021 she began to send out the page assignments and instructions to the volunteers.  Within days, Laurie started receiving the completed transcriptions from the volunteers and she began to post the texts, side-by-side with the corresponding photographed pages from the manuscript, on an online website called Voyage of the Whaler Merrimac, created on the Omeka platform. By February 2021 the transcription part of the project was complete but the editing process took another two months until we decided  that it was good enough.

Agent/Owner data added to American Whaling Voyages

Painting of Desolation Island, Indian Ocean

Agent/Owner entries have been added or updated for more than eight thousand American Offshore Whaling voyages. Now there are agent/owner entries for more than two-thirds of the fifteen thousand voyages in the database.

This makes it possible to view the voyages credited to a single agent/owner together in search results. For example, view the voyages of the Warren, Rhode Island whaling merchants Driscoll & Child  at

The usual guidelines for searching names also apply here. There really were multiple people with similar names, the same person did sometimes vary the way he spelled his name during his lifetime, and firms and partnerships changed over time. But also, historical records were not always precise, clerks sometimes misspelled, and two hundred year old handwriting can be difficult to read. As a result sometimes you will find multiple, slightly different entries for what may or may not be the same merchants. To see an example, search “Driscoll & Child” and notice the variations. To make sure you find what you are looking for search thoroughly, explore variant spellings, and try the suggestions on our “Just Search” page.


Mattapoisett Data Stories

Mattapoisett Data Stories

Through interactive maps and visualizations,  Mattapoisett Data Stories invites exploration of life in the shipbuilding village of Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, in the late 1700s and mid-1800s by integrating map, census, and American Offshore Whaling Voyages data.

Explore Mattapoisett Data Stories →

Mattapoisett census map
(click to view full size)

Through an interactive map focusing on village residents, visitors can explore Mattapoisett village c. 1855/1856. Clicking on the map reveals information about the residents, the whaling voyages residents crewed, historic buildings, and related Mattapoisett Museum collection records. Overlaying later town maps shows how the town changed between 1856 and 1903.

Mattapoisett whaling voyages map
(click to view full size)

Visualizations summarize the growth of the U.S. whaling and Mattapoisett shipbuilding industries during the 1800s, document changes in occupations, and provide contextualized access to collection images.

The underlying microdata may be viewed online and downloaded.

Mattapoisett Museum: 2014, 2019

Just search

If you’re not sure where to begin, use the Search box in the banner at the top of any page. Enter a person’s name, a vessel name, a year, or any other words of interest and click the ‘magnifying glass’ icon. This site Search function knows about all of the databases and all of the web pages on the Whaling History website. It will return any results it finds from each one in a separate tab.

Information about using the Search function will appear below your search results. View the Search documentation here →  (when you get there, click on the “View search help” button.)

Data map

The data map below shows the entities represented in the databases and the main connections among them to help you visualize what is going on in your search results. Click on the data map to view or print a PDF version.

Learn about Whaling is a repository for data about whaling. For a general overview of whaling and whaling history, here are some resources to start your exploration. Each of them takes a different approach: a narrative, a collection of artifacts and maps, a timeline, a collection of topics, a map, a work of literature.

New Features and New Data added to has been greatly expanded in the past year to include whaling data from more countries, links to scanned documents online, and a new global search.

New Data

  • British North American (BNA). A database of whaling voyage data has been added. This includes information on 170 masters, 84 vessels and almost 300 whaling voyages from the east coast of British North America from 1779 through 1845 The details of these voyages are largely the work of Andrea Kirkpatrick, compiled for her forthcoming book on this fishery.
  • Les Baleiniers Français (LBF). Almost 1,000 records for French whaling voyages come primarily from digitization of Thierry DuPasquier’s tables from his two books documenting that country’s whaling trade.  The data was confirmed and augmented by the generous contributions of Peter Tremewan who shared his translations of French maritime documents from the Archives Nationales, in Paris.
  • American Offshore Whaling Voyages (AOWV). The data already on has been edited and augmented with new biographical information about whaling masters and their wives. And, crew lists for another 350 voyages have been added by a volunteer project at New Bedford Whaling Museum.
  • British Southern Whale Fishery (BSWF). The voyage and crew list databases have been extensively revised and updated.

New Search

  • Global Search. A new search page makes it possible to search all of the databases on at the same time. Now that we have five major data collections, each with multiple datasets, global search is the most powerful way to start your exploration of Whaling History. Search for a name to find every occurrence—as a whaling master, crew member, owner, agent, master’s wife, vessel, … —in any database on the site.
  • Advanced Search. Each database has a data viewer—a tabular display window to interact with the data—for precision searching and access to every data field available. Researchers can search, sort, and select subsets of the data for printing, copying to spreadsheets or other documents, and downloading.

New Access to Voyage Maps

Whaling History has from its beginning displayed maps of more than 1,300 whaling voyages based on data from the American Offshore Whaling Logbook database. Maps are included in the new Global Search, making them easier to locate. Browse voyage maps →

New Connections

  • Many vessels and masters sailed from more than one country. Considerable work has gone into connecting our databases to each other. Global searches will find these linkages among the American, French and British North American databases. For example:

New Scanned Documents

New Explore Menu

We have added an Explore menu to offer new ways to dig into the Whaling History databases and to feature aspects of the data that might not otherwise be discovered. One of the first Explore topics is Women who went whaling, an opportunity to find voyages on which the master’s wife sailed.

Voyage of the Neptune 1840-1842

Mystic Seaport Museum for Educators

This map represents the journey of the whaler Neptune (Mystic Seaport Museum O-LOG 23) of New London, Connecticut. Chronicling the ship’s voyage from October, 1840 – April, 1842, the map depicts the ship’s day-to-day events as it traveled to the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans as they were described in the ship’s logbook. View the active map →

Original content by: Allyse Zajac

The collaboration

This voyage of Neptune is American Offshore Whaling Voyage AV10372. Our database includes summary information about the voyage, the vessel and the master, Samuel Greene, Jr., as well as a crew list.  In building her interactive voyage map, Allyse Zajac started with AOWL logbook data then added detail, encoded special events, and transcribed all of the complete logbook entries from the original logbook in the collections of Mystic Seaport Museum.

In the next phase of our project, we hope to take the data set from her project and  use it to enhance the information on


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

By Kerry Gathers

At its peak in the mid-19th century, whaling was a gigantic, global business that provided oil to light the streets and homes of Europe and America, and bone to make profitable consumer goods for sale around the world. The young United States dominated this industry, and for a time, whaling was the fifth largest sector of the American economy.

While stories of whaling drama, adventure, and violence are typically set at sea, this map aims to communicate the economic impact of whaling back in American ports, where sperm oil, whale oil, and whalebone landed and entered the market. For over 60 port cities and towns, this map reports the market values of whale products as they were returned to port from 1804 to 1876, illustrating the drastic ebbs and flows of the industry.

Oil and Bone Map
Click on image to enlarge. Interact with the map at



British Whaling data now available is now hosting two important data sets documenting British whaling.

The databases contain voyage and crew information for the British Southern Whale Fishery, which operated from 1775 to 1859. The voyage database, which is primarily the work of A G E (Joe) Jones, documents the events of about 2550 voyages, whaling or sealing, to the south of Britain in over 930 different vessels. The crew database, which is primarily the work of Dale Chatwin, lists nearly 14,000 entries for men who sailed in the ships in the British Southern Whale Fishery.

For 350 years until the early 1960s the British were involved in several types of whaling. This involvement was divided into three distinct trades: the northern whale fishery between 1610 and 1914; the southern whale fishery or ‘south seas trade’ from 1775 to 1859; and the modern whaling trade, from 1904 to 1963. Each of these trades was distinguished by the geographical location in which it was undertaken, the types of whales pursued, and to some extent by the methods and techniques used to capture whales. The northern and southern whale fisheries were even differentiated and defined by law.

We are especially pleased to host the BSWF data because many American whalers also sailed from British ports in the years after the American Revolution. We are looking forward to making these connections explicit, linking records in the American Offshore Whaling databases with those in the British Southern Whale Fishery data.

World’s Most Comprehensive Whaling History Database Released connects all things whaling for researchers, scholars, genealogists and enthusiasts

The New Bedford Whaling Museum and Mystic Seaport Museum have developed the world’s most comprehensive whaling history database and it is now available for all to use at Researchers, genealogists, students, teachers, and history buffs alike will find it to be the most robust and useful repository of whaling history documentation and scholarship.

The data presented combines many sources including logbooks, journals, ship registers, newspapers, business papers, and custom house records. Users will be able to find and trace whaling voyages and ships to specific logbooks, as well as the list of crew members aboard most of the voyages. The foundational fabric of Whaling History features three databases that have been stitched together – the American Offshore Whaling Voyage (AOWV) database, the American Offshore Whaling Log database, and an extensive whaling crew list database. All data is open to the public and is downloadable for any researcher to use with other tools and systems.

The American Offshore Whaling Voyage (AOWV) database, which was spearheaded by Judith Lund, scholar and former curator at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, includes information about all known American offshore (or “pelagic”) whaling voyages from the 1700s to the 1920s. It does not include the modern factory ship voyages of the mid-20th century. Information is most complete for the 19th century. The voyages included in the database sailed from, or were under the registry of, what is now the United States.

Extensive records of American whaling in the form of daily entries in whaling voyage logbooks and contain a great deal of information about where and when the whalemen found whales. The second part of the database’s foundation is the American Offshore Whaling Log database, which includes information from 1,381 logbooks from American offshore whaling voyages between 1784 and 1920. These data were extracted from the original whaling logbooks during three separate scientific research projects, one conducted by Lieutenant Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury in the 1850s, the second conducted by Charles Haskins Townsend in the 1930s, and the third conducted by a team from the Census of Marine Life project led by Tim Denis Smith between 2000 and 2010. The data file includes 466,134 data records assembled in a common format suitable for spatial and temporal analysis of American whaling throughout the 19th century.

The third database that Whaling History is built from is extensive whaling voyage crew lists from more than 5,300 voyages. Crew lists for whaling voyages recorded at the customs houses in Fall River and Salem, Massachusetts and in New London, Connecticut have been compiled as part of various projects and from various sources over the years. Crew lists for New Bedford voyages have been compiled using records kept by the chaplains of the New Bedford Port Society from 1840 to the end of whaling in New Bedford. These crew lists are now in a single searchable, sortable database.

In the next phase of the Whaling History, museums and other institutions’ collection items will be able to be linked to the database, giving researchers the ability to see a robust and dynamic picture of whaling history and artifacts.

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 AOWL data. This and other maps are presented in:

Smith TD, Reeves RR, Josephson EA, Lund JN (2012) Spatial and Seasonal Distribution of American Whaling and Whales in the Age of Sail. PLoS ONE 7(4): e34905.


American whalemen sailed out of ports on the east coast of the United States and in California from the 18th to early 20th centuries, searching for whales throughout the world’s oceans. From an initial focus on sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and right whales (Eubalaena spp.), the array of targeted whales expanded to include bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), and gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus). Extensive records of American whaling in the form of daily entries in whaling voyage logbooks contain a great deal of information about where and when the whalemen found whales. We plotted daily locations where the several species of whales were observed, both those caught and those sighted but not caught, on world maps to illustrate the spatial and temporal distribution of both American whaling activity and the whales. The patterns shown on the maps provide the basis for various inferences concerning the historical distribution of the target whales prior to and during this episode of global whaling.

Townsend’s Whaling Charts

Chart A: Distribution of the sperm whale based on logbook records dating from 1761 to 1920. April – September, inclusive. (Click on any chart to enlarge.)
Chart B: Distribution of the sperm whale based on logbook records dating from 1761 – 1920 October—March, inclusive
Chart C: Distribution of northern and southern right whales based on logbook records dating from 1785 to 1913.
Chart D: Distribution of bowhead and humpback whales based on logbook records – mostly Nineteenth Century.

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 →

The Data Viewer Interface

When the the main site search is not specific or flexible enough for your needs, use the data viewers. Each database has its own data viewer—a tabular display window to interact with the data—and all of the data viewers share a common set of features.

The data viewers are available from the Databases item on the main menu at the top of every page.


(Click on any example image to enlarge.)

The view displays a scroll bar on the bottom to scroll left-and-right through the available columns. A scroll bar on the right edge scrolls through the records. In the top left, the viewer shows the records currently in the display window. If you have a tablet or other touch screen device, you can also swipe vertically or horizontally to scroll the data.

Showing columns

(Click to enlarge.)

You can choose to hide or show any of the columns in the database. Click the red Show/Hide Columns button in the top left to display all of the column names. Click on a column name to toggle it on or off. Each database has a Columns Definitions page where you can learn more about the content its columns. (Click outside column name box to continue.)


(Click to enlarge.)

Click on any column heading to sort the database by that column. The triangle to the right of that column name will turn blue to indicate that the column is sorted. Click again on the column heading to reverse the sort order. (The blue triangle will invert.) To add more columns to your sort, alt-click or option-click on their column headings.


(Click to enlarge.)

At the top or bottom of each column is a search box. Some columns have a selection menu that will pop up, others have a free form text box. Text searches are not case sensitive.

Multiple search words are treated as if joined with AND, so choosing “Fall River, MA” with the Port menu and typing “indian” in the Ground search box will result in all voyage records that have Port=”Fall River, MA” AND Ground contains “indian”.

Some of the databases are very large—please be patient, your search results may not appear instantaneously. To clear all active searches, use the red “Clear all searches” button in the top right.

Selecting and displaying one voyage

(Click to enlarge.)

In the Voyages database, click on a single row in the data viewer for a full display of all aspects of the voyage at the bottom of the page.

Selecting multiple records

To select more than one row, click on the first row, then add more with shift-click. Depending on your browser and operating system, you may also be able to add individual records using ctrl-click or ⌘-click.

Select all search results

(Click any example to enlarge.)

Or, after searching the database you can select the found records by clicking the “Select all search results” button that will appear in the top right. To unselect all selected records, click the red “Clear selection” button.

Printing, copying, exporting

Printing, copying and export all work with a selection, which may include one or more records. For the examples below we’ve selected all the voyages of the bark Sappho. This selection happens to fit neatly in our data viewer window, but your selection might include many more records than you can view at one time.

The set of columns that you’ve chosen with the “Show/Hide” button will be the columns that appear in your print, copy or export.


To produce a printable version of the selected records, click on the “Print selected” button in the top left. A new browser window will open with your data in a table. You can then print the page using your browsers print command. Depending on your operating system, you may also be able to save the output as a PDF file, or email or text it to yourself and others.


To copy the selected records to your clipboard, click on the “Copy selected” button. A message will appear to tell you that the data has been copied. You can then paste the data into any other application. It is properly formatted so that you can paste directly into a spreadsheet. It will also format neatly in a word processor. If pasted into a plain text editor, the result will be tab-delimited text.


(Click on any example to enlarge.)

To export your selection as a CSV file, click on the “Export selected” button. Your computer operating system will prompt you to save the data. The resulting file will be comma-delimited and all columns will be wrapped with quotation marks. The first row will contain the column names. A file in this format can be opened in a spreadsheet, or it may be imported into software for managing databases or performing statistical analysis.

Honolulu, Nov 2nd 1859

To: Mystic Seaport, Collections Research Center
Date: 23 November 2017


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. The letter was from, I assume, a crew Member to his mother. In it he expresses regret at the news of his father’s death and guilt that he wasn’t there to help console the family. He writes that there are presently about 80 ships in port, mostly whalers, and he has met many men from Hartford. He also notes that they were “in the Ochotsk Sea six months and have on board one thousand barrels of oil and 8500 lbs of bone”. He signed the letter “From your ever affectionate and dutyful son, Sidney Case.” He then writes “Please direct Honolulu Sandwich Island in care of Cpt Davey (Davis?) “Barque Gratitude” The hand writing is very formal and ornate, the letter has been folded, unfolded numerous times and at some point the folds were taped making much of it difficult to read. I would like to confirm that “Sidney Case” was a crew member, and then try to determine what connection he had with my family (Gilmore (Gillmore) and Randall). Any information you can provide is appreciated.