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Friday, February 3, 2012


Right whales
(friendly acrobats of the sea)
Photo from: NatGeo

OCast vallena, L.Eubalaena glacialis, Eng. Biscayan right whale. This warm-blooded fishlike mammal breaths air, gives birth to live babies, and is found in the Bay of Biscay, the Azores, NW Africa and between the Mediterranean and Iceland. In the 12th C commercial whaling began in the Bay of Biscay. Then and until 1860, when the whaling industry boomed, it was the most common species harpooned as it is a slower and smaller species than others. An average right whale weighs about 96 t and is 16-17 m. long. The oil from it was used for heating and illumination and as a lubricant, soap and margarine. The right whale was named for the large quantity of oil in its body. There is so much that it even floats when dead, therefore, it is just “right” to catch. Ambergris was obtained from its intestines, see ámbar gris. The sinews are used to string tennis rackets. The hormone content of the pancreas, pituitary glands and thyroid now is used in scientific research. The teeth are made into buttons, jewelry and pipes. The roof of the mouth is converted into glue. Bones are cut to stiffen corsets and other garments. Only Villena mentions the consumption of the meat. As it is heavy food, it is not served often. The meat is tough and chopped into small pieces. Recipes are lacking in medieval cookery manuscripts, perhaps whalers and their families took care of that before it could reach the king’s table. Salted, however, the meat can be kept for a long time. Today it is in the top ten of most endangered animals in the world. See untos. [ES: Whales. Apr 28, 03; and Villena/Calero. 2002:23a:37b]


  1. It is as if I were on board with captain Akhab!
    Together with cod, whales were in fact an speciality of basque fishermen or rather hunters. As tunna, there are several species of whales. The Eubalaena glacialis, Eng. Biscayan right whale, ballena franca or ballena de los vascos, has no teeth, but 300 "beards" more than 3 meters long, that they use to filter krill and other small invertebrates they feed on. These "beards" were used for the corsets and accordingly in Spanish this boning are called "ballenas".
    The other common kind of whale is the "cachalote" or sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). It can reach 20,5 meters long and the massive square head is one third of the total. It is the only whale to have teeth, and it was described by Herman Melville in Moby Dick and Jules Verne in 20.000 Leagues Under the Sea.
    Perhaps Japanese eat whale meat?

  2. I am beginning to learn that there are many whale species. Moby Dick only taught us that a whale was a whale. I have, however, been fascinated with the fact that the whale is like a pig. Every inch of him is used. We have ambergris perfume, the teeth were also used for corsets, the fat was burned to light New England homes at least.
    Good question, are there whales around Japan? I had a dinner partner in Madrid one time who was Mr. Calvo, the biggest tuna producer in Spain I believe. I was waiting for him to describe his employees harpooning tunny off the costs of Spain like those of the Duke of Medina Sedonia in southern Spain during the Middle Ages. As I embraced my chair in expectation, he blew my bubble flatly telling me that all his tunny comes from Japan!
    After that I picked my salad and wondered about the whales . . .

  3. This Mr. Calvo was quite cheeky! I perfectly remember Calvo's publicity selling "bonito del Norte" and white tuna, "claro, Calvo"!!! Perhaps Mr. Calvo was buying also tuna from France. French fishermen have been heavily fined in the past for using long nets, which are very destructive and have seriously endangered tuna in the Cantabric Sea. Not only tuna, but dolphins!
    I'll take care to look well the small print in the tuna cans...
    THE ANSWER TO THE GREAT QUESTION: do Japanese eat whales? is YES: not only, but also Norwegians, South Africans and "Kiwies", as a quick search in Internet has showed me. Here you have some recipes.
    Not that it is a very common ingredient, but if you happen to travel to these countries, you'll surely have a chance of trying. Only let us know, please!