Whaler's Fluke Lance

The most dangerous act in the dangerous business of whaling was “spading flukes.” The whaleboat drew up close alongside a desperate, unpredictable whale on the water surface, and a crewman used a boat spade or fluke lance to sever the whale’s tail tendons. This effectively immobilized the prey, for the whale couldn’t swim without its tail.
According to James Temple Brown, who wrote the 1883 catalog of the Smithsonian’s whaling collection, the fluke lance was exceedingly rare and was regarded as “a monstrosity by all the fraternity”. This rare inscribed example was used aboard the starboard whaleboat of the bark Sea Fox.
Object Name
Fluke Lance
Date made
ca 1880-1889
authored whaling reference material
Brown, James Temple
Driggs, James D.
Physical Description
iron (overall material)
overall: 3 1/2 in x 59 3/4 in x 1 1/2 in; 8.89 cm x 151.765 cm x 3.81 cm
Place Made
United States: Massachusetts, New Bedford
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Natural Resources
Cultures & Communities
Industry & Manufacturing
On the Water exhibit
The Development of the Industrial United States
See more items in
Work and Industry: Maritime
On the Water exhibit
On the Water
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
U.S. Fish Commission through James D. Driggs
Brown, James Temple. The Whale Fishery and Its Appliances
Publication title
On the Water online exhibition
Publication URL

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