On the Water

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.

ID Number:
Driggs, James D.
Place Made:
New Bedford, Massachusetts
metal, iron
ca 1880-1889
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
U.S. Fish Commission through James D. Driggs

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