Geographical knowledge as well as cartographic and hydrographic systematization, which would ensure navigation in Antarctica after four decades of lethargy, were revealed in the short span of a single decade, mainly because of the results of whaling expeditions led by Dundee (1892-1893), Carl Anton Larsen (1892-1894), Adrien De Gerlache (1897-1899), and Otto Nordenskjöld (1901-1903). Shortly afterward, the expeditions led by Jean Charcot (1903-1905 and 1908-1910) completed the modern geographical view of the region.
The problem related to the zoological knowledge of the Antarctic whales —as regards their habitat and migration— was solved by the methodical scientific studies carried out by the Rumanian zoologist and botanist Emile Racowitza, member of the Belgium expedition (1897-1899).
Thus, by the beginning of the 20th century, all the necessary conditions for whaling to emerge and flourish in these regions had been established.
Whale, Penguin, Sea Lions and Elephant seal Hunting
The Patagonian shores were the scene of mass slaughtering in the 19th C until around 1920, when hunting was banned almost everywhere.
Using sticks, axes or harpoons, hunters attacked penguin or sea lion colonies until they practically disappeared.
The oil extracted from their flesh, skin and fat was highly valued for industrial use (lubricant) o for lighting.
Explosive Head from Whaler Harpoon (c. 1920)
The harpoon was shot with a chaser; this grenade was mounted on the tip to inflict a deadly wound to the whale, which was hooked with the rest of the harpoon.
Found on Enterprise Island, Antarctica, among the remains of a floating factory (Governoren).
This is a typical whaler used in whaling settlements such as the Azores or, as this is the case, New Bedford.
These were used directly from the coast when a lookout spotted whales.
Whaling ships used to carry several of these boats, which were launched with a crew of six hands — four rowers, one helmsman, and a harpooner.
They approached the whale and the harpooner threw the harpoon with a line (rope) tied to it. This line could be tied to others to form a line some hundred meters long. As soon as the whale is harpooned, it starts to swim swiftly away diving deeply. This is the whale’s last chance to escape. This is when men show their skills as they are being towed at high speed withdrawing the helm and steering with an oar. On many occasions, the whale makes the boat go about so that she has to sail with the stern to the wind.
Some species, such as sperm whales, struggled and frequently made the boat sink. Others, such as right whales, were easily hunted because of their docility. In their attempt to escape, they gradually lost their blood and became weaker and weaker until they died. At this point, preys were towed to the whaling ship, where they were slaughtered.
(Museo Antártico Salas 13 y 14)