On the Water

Whaler's Harpoon with Toggle Head

The first step in catching a whale was throwing at least two sharp harpoons into its back, to ensure that the whaleboat was securely fastened to its prey. Harpoon shafts were made of soft wrought iron, so that they would bend and not break off when twisted, which risked losing the wounded whale.

A line at the bottom of the harpoon’s wooden handle attached it to the whaleboat. Once in the whale’s flesh, the sharp toggle tip swiveled sideways, making it harder for the tip of the weapon to pull out. Whales normally dove deep after the first prick, to try and escape the sharp jab from the surface of the ocean. This harpoon shaft was twisted by a descending whale.

ID Number:
D. & D.
Place Made:
New Bedford, Massachusetts
metal, iron
4 3/4 in x 29 1/2 in x 5 1/4 in; 12.065 cm x 74.93 cm x 13.335 cm
Jonathan Bourne through J. T. Brown