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Digging into Our Whaling Past: Addressing the Portuguese Influence in the Early Modern Exploitation of Whales in the Atlantic

  • Cristina BritoEmail author
  • Nina Vieira
  • Vera Jordão
  • António Teixeira
Chapter
Part of the Environmental History book series (ENVHIS, volume 7)

Abstract

Portugal, together with the Basque Country, was an important whaling location where a whale culture developed since the Middle Age. Whaling and the ways of using stranded whales spread with the Portuguese expansion in the South Atlantic in the fifteenth century. In fact, organized whaling and development of related techniques did follow the Portuguese and Spanish expansion in the Atlantic. In the medieval and early modern Portugal, whaling had been an important economic activity. Nevertheless, reliable information for the period roughly spanning from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries is still scarce. Based on historical descriptions our investigation addresses the information available about the techniques used, the species exploited and the transfer of an activity across different Atlantic regions. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries whale use migrated from the Portuguese shores in Iberia to the Atlantic Islands (Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde) and to the new overseas territories, particularly to Brazil. Whalers did use small open boats and hand harpoons to reach and kill the whales. The Basque shore-based model was imported by several Atlantic regions but with significant impact on Brazilian coasts. This is relevant in a context of globalization of techniques and ways of handling whales and their products. Once the activity became established in Brazil, in the early seventeenth century, the Iberian Crowns started a shore whaling business and a Basque crew was hired for the first seasons. So, the beginning of whaling in these new regions was mostly supported upon Basque expertise. For the next couple of centuries, a structured shore based whaling enterprise developed in the coastal waters of Brazil, mainly dedicated to the hunting of right whales (Balaenidae) during the calving season. After the depletion of these the whalers turned to humpback whales. Local whalers in Brazil always stood with a land-based type of whaling in contrary to the Basques who conducted offshore whaling when moving into the North Atlantic and away from their Iberian shores. Basques and Portuguese whalers, and their Crowns played a significant role in the transfer of knowledge and techniques of whaling across the Atlantic in the early modern period.

Keywords

Whaling Early modern period Atlantic Portuguese empire 

Notes

Acknowledgments

CB and NV were supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT), respectively, through a post-doctoral fellowship (SFRH/BPD/108927/2015) and a PhD scholarship (SFRH/BD/104932/2014). This study was also supported by CHAM (Portuguese Centre for Global History) Strategic Project (UID/HIS/04666/2013). This article is based upon work from COST Action IS1403 - Oceans Past Platform, supported by COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology).

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cristina Brito
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Nina Vieira
    • 1
    • 2
  • Vera Jordão
    • 2
  • António Teixeira
    • 3
  1. 1.CHAM – Portuguese Centre for Global HistoryFCSH-NOVA/UAcLisbonPortugal
  2. 2.APCM - Sea Sciences AssociationLisbonPortugal
  3. 3.DGRMLisbonPortugal

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