For Arctic fishing Americans generally employ strongly protected steamers, much like the Scotch whaling vessels ; but a good deal of ocean fishing is done by boats from the shore and ships of all descriptions, from schooners upwards. These vessels are generally provided with an apparatus to boil the blubber on board. The harpoon gun does not seem to be in general use except with some kinds of whales which, owing to the rapidity of their movements through the water, can only be fastened successfully with this uncertain weapon; but rockets and bomb lances, which are practically shells ignited by a time fuse either by the flash of the gun or concussion, are employed with great success. When a fish is fastened, one of these rockets fired into the right spot will soon kill it, and as they can be fired at a distance, a great part of the danger of whaling is obviated, viz. running the boat up close enough to put in a hand lance.
The average length of the whaleboats now in use is from 28 feet to 29 feet, with a beam of from 6 ft. 2 in. to 6 ft. 5 in., and they are provided with a centre-board. They carry 300 fathoms of very soft laid Manila line, which, during the process of manufacture, is sprinkled with whale oil as a preservative. The line is coiled down in two tubs, the largest containing 225 fathoms and the smallest 75. The big tub stands on the port side just forward the thwart for the stroke oar, and the small tub on the starboard side against the centre-board cover between Nos. 3 and 4 thwarts.
The loggerhead (i.e. bollard head) is placed right aft slightly on the starboard side of the boat, round which the line from the big tub is led, and down the boat through the score to the harpoon. They carry two harpoons on a ' mik' on the starboard side, and if the second harpoon is not used, it is thrown overboard and hangs on the line. There are other slight differences between British and American methods which space will not admit of noticing. The main one seems to be running the line from right aft, which would appear to be an advantage where one boat alone is employed to kill a fish, as it must be much easier to recover line and haul up to the fish to lance her. However, in the case of a foul line, the Scotch plan would appear to have advantages, as a harpooneer has been known, on the cry of foul line, to take the turns off the bollard head and throw the foul part of the line overboard, saving the boat and eventually securing the fish.
The officer in charge steers the boat, and the moment a fish is struck shifts ends with the man who has harpooned the fish. He comes aft and runs the line. The officer uses the bomb gun and lances. There may be other descriptions of boats and ways of fitting them, but this is a summary of the information the writer has been able to obtain from personal observation and research.
The whales taken by American fishermen with harpoons, &c, are as follows : The Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus), Right Whale (Eubalúna), Pacific Right Whale (Balúna japonica)óit may be noted that there are said to be several species of the Right WhaleóBowhead, Greenland Whale (Mysticetus), Humpback Whale (Megaptera), Californian Grey Whale or Devil Fish (Rhachianectes glaucus), the Sulphurbottom Whale (Sibbaldius sulfurus), the Fin-back (Balúnoplera velifera).