Whale oil

Whale oil

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Whale oil is the oil
Oil
An oil is any substance that is liquid at ambient temperatures and does not mix with water but may mix with other oils and organic solvents. This general definition includes vegetable oils, volatile essential oils, petrochemical oils, and synthetic oils....

 obtained from the blubber
Blubber
Blubber is a thick layer of vascularized adipose tissue found under the skin of all cetaceans, pinnipeds and sirenians.-Description:Lipid-rich, collagen fiber–laced blubber comprises the hypodermis and covers the whole body, except for parts of the appendages, strongly attached to the musculature...

 of various species of whale
Whale
Whale is the common name for various marine mammals of the order Cetacea. The term whale sometimes refers to all cetaceans, but more often it excludes dolphins and porpoises, which belong to suborder Odontoceti . This suborder also includes the sperm whale, killer whale, pilot whale, and beluga...

s, particularly the three species of right whale
Right whale
Right whales are three species of large baleen whales consisting of two genera in the family Balaenidae of order Cetacea. Their bodies are very dark gray or black and rotund....

 (Eubalaena japonica
North Pacific Right Whale
The North Pacific right whale is a very large, robust baleen whale species that is now extremely rare and endangered. The Northeast Pacific subpopulation, that summers in the southeastern Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, may have no more than 50 animals...

, E. glacialis
North Atlantic Right Whale
The North Atlantic right whale which means "good, or true, whale of the ice") is a baleen whale, one of three right whale species belonging to the genus Eubalaena, formerly classified as a single species. With only 400 in existence, North Atlantic right whales are among the most endangered whales...

, and E. australis
Southern Right Whale
The southern right whale is a baleen whale, one of three species classified as right whales belonging to the genus Eubalaena. Like other right whales, the southern right whale is readily distinguished from others by the callosities on its head, a broad back without a dorsal fin, and a long arching...

) and the bowhead whale
Bowhead Whale
The bowhead whale is a baleen whale of the right whale family Balaenidae in suborder Mysticeti. A stocky dark-colored whale without a dorsal fin, it can grow to in length. This thick-bodied species can weigh to , second only to the blue whale, although the bowhead's maximum length is less than...

 (Balaena mysicetus) prior to the modern era, as well as several other species of baleen whale. Train oil proper is right whale oil, but this term has been applied to all blubber oils and, in Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 and Sweden
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

, to all marine animal oils: fish oil
Fish oil
Fish oil is oil derived from the tissues of oily fish. Fish oils contain the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid , and docosahexaenoic acid , precursors of certain eicosanoids that are known to reduce inflammation throughout the body, and are thought to have many health benefits.Fish do not...

s, liver oils, and blubber oils. The most important whale oil was sperm oil, which comes from the head cavities (not blubber) of the sperm whale
Sperm Whale
The sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, is a marine mammal species, order Cetacea, a toothed whale having the largest brain of any animal. The name comes from the milky-white waxy substance, spermaceti, found in the animal's head. The sperm whale is the only living member of genus Physeter...

.

Whale oil flows readily, is clear, and varies in colour from a bright honey yellow to a dark brown, according to the condition of the blubber from which it has been extracted.

Sperm oil is the oil from the head cavity of the sperm whale. (The oil from the sperm whale's blubber is just a common whale oil.) Sperm oil is chemically a liquid wax
Wax
thumb|right|[[Cetyl palmitate]], a typical wax ester.Wax refers to a class of chemical compounds that are plastic near ambient temperatures. Characteristically, they melt above 45 °C to give a low viscosity liquid. Waxes are insoluble in water but soluble in organic, nonpolar solvents...

 and not a true oil. A large sperm whale can hold as much as three tons. Stearin
Stearin
Stearin , or tristearin, or glyceryl tristearate is a triglyceride, a glyceryl ester of stearic acid, derived from animal fats created as a byproduct of processing beef. It can also be found in tropical plants such as palm. It is used as tallow in the manufacture of candles and soap. In the...

 and spermaceti
Spermaceti
Spermaceti is a wax present in the head cavities of the sperm whale . Originally mistaken for the whales' sperm , spermaceti is created in the spermaceti organ inside the whale's head and connected to its nasal passage...

 may be separated from sperm oil at low temperatures; at under 6 °C (42.8 °F) these constituents may be almost completely crystallized and filtered out. When removed and pressed, this deposit is known as whale tallow
Tallow
Tallow is a rendered form of beef or mutton fat, processed from suet. It is solid at room temperature. Unlike suet, tallow can be stored for extended periods without the need for refrigeration to prevent decomposition, provided it is kept in an airtight container to prevent oxidation.In industry,...

, and the oil from which it is removed is known as pressed whale oil, yet is sometimes passed as sperm oil.

The first principal use of whale oil was as an illuminant in lamps
Oil lamp
An oil lamp is an object used to produce light continuously for a period of time using an oil-based fuel source. The use of oil lamps began thousands of years ago and is continued to this day....

 and as candle wax. It was a major food of the aboriginal peoples of the Pacific northwest
Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is a region in northwestern North America, bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and, loosely, by the Rocky Mountains on the east. Definitions of the region vary and there is no commonly agreed upon boundary, even among Pacific Northwesterners. A common concept of the...

, such as the Nootka
Nootka
Nootka may refer to:* The Nuu-chah-nulth indigenous peoples and their Nuu-chah-nulth language* The place called Nootka Sound* The island known as Nootka Island* The three treaties signed in the 1790s, known as the Nootka Conventions...

. Whale oil later came to be used in oiling wools for combing and other uses. It was the first of any animal or mineral oil to achieve commercial viability. It was used to make margarine
Margarine
Margarine , as a generic term, can indicate any of a wide range of butter substitutes, typically composed of vegetable oils. In many parts of the world, the market share of margarine and spreads has overtaken that of butter...

 and was the basis of very effective protective paint for steel, e.g. the original (but not current) Rust-Oleum
Rust-Oleum
Rust-Oleum is a maker of protective paints and coatings for home and industry use. It was founded in 1921 by Robert Fergusson after he noticed that raw fish oil spilled on rusty metal decks stopped corrosion from spreading....

.

Whale oil's predominant place in society was mostly eliminated with the development of kerosene
Kerosene
Kerosene, sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage, also known as paraffin or paraffin oil in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Ireland and South Africa, is a combustible hydrocarbon liquid. The name is derived from Greek keros...

 from coal in 1846, and the advances in petroleum
Petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

 drilling in the late 19th century, which led to petroleum-based waxes and oils replacing whale oils in most nonfood applications. With the 1986 International Whaling Commission
International Whaling Commission
The International Whaling Commission is an international body set up by the terms of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling , which was signed in Washington, D.C...

 (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling, whale oil has all but ceased to be viable, as substitutes have been found for most of its uses, notably jojoba oil
Jojoba oil
Jojoba oil is the liquid wax produced in the seed of the jojoba plant, a shrub native to southern Arizona, southern California, and northwestern Mexico. The oil makes up approximately 50% of the jojoba seed by weight....

.

In literature and memoirs


The pursuit and use of whale oil, along with many other aspects of whaling
History of whaling
The history of whaling is very extensive, stretching back for millennia. This article discusses the history of whaling up to the commencement of the International Whaling Commission moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986....

, are discussed in Herman Melville
Herman Melville
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd....

's Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, was written by American author Herman Melville and first published in 1851. It is considered by some to be a Great American Novel and a treasure of world literature. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod,...

. In the novel, the preciousness of the substance to contemporary American society is emphasized when the fictional narrator notes that whale oil is "as rare as the milk of queens." John R. Jewitt
John R. Jewitt
John Rodgers Jewitt was an armourer who entered the historical record with his memoirs about the 28 months he spent as a captive of Maquinna of the Nuu-chah-nulth people on the Pacific Northwest Coast of what is now Canada...

, an Englishman who wrote a memoir about his years as a captive of the Nootka people on the Pacific Northwest
Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is a region in northwestern North America, bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and, loosely, by the Rocky Mountains on the east. Definitions of the region vary and there is no commonly agreed upon boundary, even among Pacific Northwesterners. A common concept of the...

 Coast in 1802–1805, describes how what he calls train oil was used as a condiment with every dish, even strawberries.

Friedrich Ratzel
Friedrich Ratzel
Friedrich Ratzel was a German geographer and ethnographer, notable for first using the term Lebensraum in the sense that the National Socialists later would.-Life:...

 in The History of Mankind (1896), when discussing food materials in Oceania, quoted James Cook's comment in relation to "the Maoris" saying "No Greenlander was ever so sharp set upon train-oil as our friends here, they greedily swallowed the stinking droppings when we were boiling down the fat of dog-fish."

See also

  • Oleochemical
    Oleochemical
    Oleochemicals are chemicals derived from plant and animal fats. They are analogous to petrochemicals derived from petroleum.The formation of basic oleochemical substances like fatty acids, fatty acid methyl esters , fatty alcohols, fatty amines and glycerols are by various chemical and enzymatic...

  • Sperm whaling
    Sperm whaling
    Sperm whaling is the hunting of sperm whales for a substance called spermaceti which was used in cosmetics, leatherworking, and lubricants.-Economic motivation:Spermaceti is the semi-liquid, waxy substance found in the sperm whale's head...

  • Harriet Hoxie (clipper)
    Harriet Hoxie (clipper)
    The Harriet Hoxie was an 1851 clipper in the California trade. She was known for carrying cargoes of whale oil from Honolulu, and for importing the first Brown Leghorn chickens to the United States.-Voyages:...

    , 1851 clipper, first whale oil charter from Honolulu

Further reading