New Spitsbergen Whaling Agreement

1614

The Muscovy Company has announced another highly successful whaling expedition to Spitsbergen. A fleet of fourteen Company ships sailed from England, supported by four Royal Navy warships. A number of ships from other nations were turned away. A Dutch fleet of thirteen ships were met and the Company representatives negotiated an agreement with the Dutch under the monopoly granted to the Company by the English Crown. Under the agreement the four principle ports on Spitsbergen will be reserved for English ships authorized by the Company. The Dutch have been granted rights to hunt and to establish rendering sites ashore to the North and South of the English ports. In return for these concessions, the Dutch have agreed to support the English ships against all other nations that may attempt to hunt for whale in these waters.

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Muscovy Company Turns Unauthorized Hunters Away

1613

A fleet of seven Muscovy Company ships were sent on a whaling expedition to the English islands of Spitsbergen. It is believed that the fleet included a Royal Navy warship for the first time. It has been announced that the Company fleet encountered twenty five ships, Basque, French and Dutch, that were planning to illegally hunt for whales in the area. These ships were turned away. The Company has confirmed that the expedition was a success and all of its ships safely returned to England with full cargoes of whale oil and whale product produced at its bases on Spitsbergen.

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Successful Voyage by Muscovy Company Ships

1611

The Muscovy Company has again sent two ships to Spitsbergen to hunt for whales. It has been announced that this latest voyage has met with great success. However, the Company has noted the presence of one Dutch ship and one Spanish ship engaging in whale hunting against the terms of the monopoly granted to the Company by the English Crown which holds sovereignty over Spitsbergen and the waters around it. A spokesman for the Company stated that a request would be made for Royal Navy warships to accompany the expedition presently being planned.

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Sovereignty of Spitsbergen Asserted

His Majesty King James I of England

1610

His Majesty King James I of England has asserted English sovereignty over the Spitsbergen. His Majesty has become aware that vessels from other countries have been sailing the waters off Spitsbergen in the hunt for whales. Ambassadors have been dispatched to offending countries to assert English sovereignty over Spitsbergen and to assert His Majesty’s right to maintain the monopoly granted by Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth to the Muscovy Company to hunt whales in the waters around Spitsbergen.

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Rescued Crews Arrive in Hull

1610

The Muscovy Company sent two of its ships to the remote islands of Spitsbergen to hunt for whales this year. Both ships were lost but their crews were picked up by a ship from Hull. A spokesman for the Muscovy Company expressed his gratitude to the captain of the Hull ship and confirmed that the loss of ships would not deter further expeditions to hunt the whale.

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Queen Elizabeth Grants New Charter

Muscovy Company Seal

1577

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I has by her hand granted a new monopoly charter to the Muscovy Company. The charter bestows on the Company a monopoly on whaling. This increasingly important industry is expected to add to the power of the Muscovy Company which was established originally to trade with the Russias and maintains a factory in Moscow. Having established a reputation with the Russian authorities, the Company was entrusted in 1567 with the mission to convey an offer of marriage to Queen Elizabeth I from Czar Ivan IV. Her Majesty declined the offer but has maintained cordial relations between England and Russia.

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The Origins of Whaling

Japanese whaling

The hunting of whales (cetaceans) is as old as man-the-hunter in prehistory. The first hunting of whales may have involved nothing more than the opportunist killing of a whale that had beached itself, or the harvesting of a recently dead whale that had died from the shock of beaching. From there it was a short step to using boats and noise to drive whales ashore where they could be killed. It was hunting that was very similar to the hunting of land animals where prey was herded over a cliff or onto a line of waiting hunters. Whale meat and oil formed a vital part of the diet of tribes living along northern costs. The practice of herding porpoises onto a beach is still employed by some Japanese fishing villages.

The ancient alternative to herding whales ashore was for the hunter to set out in a kayak, or small boat, using an arrow or harpoon to attach a line and drogue, usually an inflated sealskin, to a whale hoping that it would tire, allowing the hunter to come in close to strike a killing blow. That method is essentially employed today although the small boat is likely to be a 450 ton whale catcher employing a harpoon gun loaded with an explosive harpoon.

In early hunting of whales, only a small number of mostly small whales were caught close to the village that would make use of the catch. Whale blubber would be rendered on fires ashore. Whale meat that was not immediately consumed might be sun dried or buried in ice for later use. Nothing was wasted. What could not be eaten was used to make clothing, shelters and tools. Arrowheads and harpoons were made from whale bone for the hunters to use on whales and other prey.

Little changed over thousands of years, until the Sixteenth Century, when Europeans introduced new technology to the hunt. That technology was first employed in the waters off northern Europe and Scandinavia, but as Europeans began to colonize the Americas, Australia and New Zealand, whaling came to the Southern Oceans.

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