Whale oil is oil that has been extracted from a whales blubber through the process of boiling strips or slabs of the whales blubber and extracting the oil that comes out of it.
Between the 17th – 20th century whale oil became very popular and was used in a variety of man-made chemicals, materials & tools such as lamp oil, margarine & transmission oil.
Because of the popularity of whale oil several species were hunted into near extinction and are now considered endangered.
Some of the most popular whales that were hunted during the whaling era include the blue whale, the right whale & the bowhead whale, which were hunted mainly because of their large size and relatively slow nature.
These baleen whales were also hunted largely because their oil contained much more useful properties than the oil found in toothed whales.
Baleen whale oil is composed primarily of triglycerides which made it much more useful in a variety of chemicals & applications which caused it to be more valuable than toothed whale oil which was composed largely of wax like properties.
In addition to the oil found in some of the larger baleen whale species whalers also hunted the sperm whale (a toothed whale) which possessed spermaceti oil that can be found located in its head.
Originally spermaceti oil was believed to actually be composed of sperm (hence the name) because the waxy substance appeared to strongly resemble the appearance of sperm, however later studies disproved this fact and the current belief held today is that spermaceti oil appears to play a big role in providing the sperm whale with buoyancy so that it can dive and rise in the water more easily.
Even though the sperm whale was hunted for its oil this species remains fairly abundant compared to its relatives the blue whale, right whale & bowhead whale.
For several centuries whale oil remained a popular chemical for margarine, cleaning chemicals, transmission fluids and burning oils.
It wasn’t until the 19th – 20th centuries that advances in technology and better alternative resources began etching away at the popularity of whale oil.
The creation and production of Kerosene, vegetable oil and hydrogenation led to refinements that eventually made whale oil a less desirable material.
In fact many businesses welcomed these new innovations because whale oil had a bad order when burned & had a tendency to bleach clothing and other materials.
Even the cost of alternative resources began to make more sense than continuing to use whale oil.
In addition to these refinements organizations such as the International Whaling Commission began stepping in and limiting/monitoring the killing of whales, especially endangered whales and in 1986 they banned the practice of whaling in a number of countries including the U.S.
Today whaling is largely banned by most countries, however there are a few countries that still hunt whales primarily for their meat which is considered by some to be a delicacy.
Thankfully due to refinements in technology & the help of organizations such as the International Whaling Commission the practice of whale hunting has mostly come to an end allowing several of the endangered species to slowly repopulate and rebuild their species, albeit on a much smaller scale.