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Whaling Disaster of 1871

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The Whaling Disaster of 1871 was an incident off the northern Alaskan coast in which a fleet of 33 American whaling ships were trapped in the Arctic ice in late 1871 and subsequently abandoned. It dealt a serious blow to the American whaling industry, already in decline.


Whaling Disaster of 1871 The Disaster of 1871 William Gilkerson

The 1871 whaling season

Whaling Disaster of 1871 from the Whaling Disaster of 1871 Found

In late June 1871, forty whaleships passed north through Bering Strait, hunting bowhead whales. By August the vessels had passed as far as Point Belcher, near Wainwright, Alaska, before a stationary high, parked over northeast Siberia, reversed the normal wind pattern and pushed the pack ice toward the Alaskan coast. Seven ships were able to escape to the south, but 33 others were trapped. Within two weeks the pack had tightened around the vessels, crushing four ships. The vessels were spread out in a long line, some 60 miles (97 km) south of Point Franklin.

Whaling Disaster of 1871 Whaling Fleet

By mid-September all 1,219 people aboard the ships evacuated in small whaleboats with a three-month supply of provisions, crossed 70 miles (110 km) of ocean, and were eventually brought to safety by the seven ships which had escaped the ice to the south. Amazingly, there were no casualties.

Whaling Disaster of 1871 Whaling Disaster of 1871 Wikipedia

The seven whalers that escaped (the vessels Europa, Arctic, Progress, Lagoda, Daniel Webster, Midas, and Chance) were forced to dump their catch and most of their equipment overboard to make room for passengers on the return trip to Honolulu. The total loss was valued at over $1,600,000 ($31.99 million in today's dollars). Twenty-two of the wrecked vessels were from New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1872 the bark Minerva was discovered intact and subsequently salvaged, but the rest were crushed in the ice, sank, or were stripped of wood by the local Inupiat.

Lost whaling vessels

The lost vessels were as follows:

Whaling Disaster of 1871 Girl on a Whaleship Whaling Disaster of 1871
Whaling Disaster of 1871 Girl on a Whaleship Whaling Disaster of 1871


Whaling Disaster of 1871 Wikipedia