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The Hunted Whale

James P. McGuane


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The lethal industry that lit the world, explained and illustrated by precise photographs of its weapons and equipment.

The Hunted Whale is a spectacular photographic exploration of the material culture of American whaling in the age of sail. Before the coming of steam and diesel ships with instruments of mechanized slaughter, the hunt was a relatively even contest between two wily mammals—man and the sperm whale. The danger that lurked in each hunt can be seen in the ultra-light cedar construction of the whale boat that the men “beached” on the living whale’s back. The gnarled and twisted shapes of surviving harpoons document the tenacity of the hunters as well as the wounded whale’s manic attempt to break free. Many aspects of the sperm whale’s unusual physiology are illustrated here, as are the whaler’s personal belongings: hats, gloves, and scrimshaw—the intricate carvings he made on the whale’s teeth.

Expertly curated and beautifully shot, this magnificent photo essay takes the viewer to the New England ports of a fledgling America as it struggled to dominate a global industry. Amazing facts, explanatory notes, and tales from the sea, representing the fruit of years of research, accompany James McGuane’s over 250 masterful photographs. McGuane looks to identify the various motivations that turned ordinary men into whale hunters. He discovers adventure, greed, courage, escape, gullibility and ignorance.

The book also includes a riveting firsthand account of the hunt, excerpted from naturalist Robert Cushman Murphy’s Logbook for Grace, a diary he kept of his time aboard the whaleship Daisy in 1912. With The Hunted Whale, McGuane delivers an engrossing and humane snapshot of a now-vanished age that helped forge the American nation as we know it.

Praise For The Hunted Whale

The Hunted Whale deftly combines brilliant images with engaging prose to take the reader on a fascinating and rewarding voyage into the heart of whaling during the age of sail. McGuane’s vivid portrait of one of America’s most iconic industries is a wonderful addition to the literature of the sea.

— Eric Jay Dolin, author of Leviathan

Jim McGuane’s The Hunted Whale is a labor of love, a comprehensive yet intimate study of American whaling under sail, in the shape of a stunning photographic essay.

— Joan Druett, author of Island of the Lost and In the Wake of Madness

McGuane covers every aspect of whaling lore, from life aboard whaling ships and descriptions of the hunt taken from nineteenth century journals, to surveying the kind of people who made up a crew and the often brutally designed tools of their trade…. Readers looking for a simple but rich overview of whaling will find it in this appealing and informative volume.

Gorgeous photographs… The reader turns over page after page in awe.
— Mary K. Bercaw Edwards

W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393069129, 208pp.

Publication Date: October 14, 2013

About the Author

James McGuane is a master photographer and filmmaker as well as a blacksmith and sculptor. His work is frequently informed by things historical and nautical. He divides his time between his home in Greenwich Village, New York City, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts.