Alternate Title

Insights From Whaling Logbooks on Whales, Dolphins, and Whaling in the Gulf of Mexico


Whaling voyage logbooks provide a unique window into historical marine animal distribution and relative numbers. The Gulf of Mexico was among the regions visited by American commercial whalers beginning in the late 1700s, and possibly as early as the 1760s. For more than a century, they hunted sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) and blackfish (usually probably short-finned pilot whales; Globicephala macrorhynchus) in the Gulf. An ongoing study of global whaling history has allowed us to offer some insights on characteristics and trends of the Gulf fishery and on cetacean populations in the Gulf. We examined 53 voyage logbooks that included some whaling in the Gulf. Using the information from those logbooks and other sources, we identified 204 different voyages that included one or more ‘‘vessel-seasons’’ of whaling in the Gulf (total of 214 vessel-seasons) between 1788 and 1877. More than three-quarters (76%) of the 186 voyages for which the rig type is known were by brigs or schooners; they sailed primarily from the Massachusetts ports of New Bedford and Nantucket initially and Provincetown in later years. The whaling took place mainly in deep portions of the Gulf and in the first 7 mo of the calendar year (i.e., from Jan. through July). The sperm whales hunted in the Gulf tended to be small and were usually taken from schools, suggesting that they were mostly juveniles and females. Observations (and occasionally catches) of other cetaceans besides sperm whales and blackfish are mentioned in the logbooks—mainly ‘‘finbacks’’ (Balaenoptera sp.), killer whales (Orcinus orca), and ‘‘porpoises’’ (various small delphinids).