Commercial whaling is one of the worst examples of wildlife over-exploitation in the early modern history of capitalism, comparable to the near-extermination of the American bison and the assault on fur species. Several species of whale have gone entirely extinct because of whaling, and other species have been reduced to herds too rare to be worth hunting.65 The whale species that are commercially hunted are of two major types. First, there are the toothed whales, represented mainly by the sperm whale, which lives in many of the world's oceans and feeds mainly on squid. The sperm whale was hunted for both its meat and its oil, which was used as fuel for lighting. Another product was spermaceti, a liquid, waxy substance found in the huge head, which was used in the manufacture of smokeless candles and as a lubricant for machines. The second major type of whale that was subjected to human commercial assault was the baleen whale. Baleen whales feed on swarms of shrimp-like crustaceans called krill by straining sea water through long, fringed baleen plates that extend from the roof of a cavernous mouth. These whales were hunted not only for their meat, which was either eaten or made into oil, but also for their baleen, a strong flexible material that was used for corset stays,66 buggy whips, and other applications.
Subsistence whaling has been part of human history for thousands of years; evidence suggests that people engaged in whaling as far back as 3000 bce.67 The age of global commercial whaling began in Japan and Southeast Asia in the first few centuries ce.68 From 800 to 1000 ce, Norwegians and Basques living on the north coast of present-day France and Spain began commercial whaling in Europe. This early whaling was done from small boats using hand-thrown harpoons attached to a coiled rope. This rope allowed the whalers to manipulate the whale until it was exhausted. The whale was then pulled alongside the boat and killed with a hand lance. During this early period of commercial whaling, the hunting vessel was a small boat discharged from a mother ship and propelled by a six-man crew
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