It does come as no surprise that the beached Sperm Whale made front page of the Thanet Times (08/03/11) on Tuesday , the article which is an exclusive is very informative quoting the findings of the scientist Rob Deaville of the Institute of Zoology who led the team investigating the stranding. The conclusion being that the Whale took a wrong turning, instead of turning West at Ireland the Whale turned East, went up the English Channel got lost, eventually to die of hunger and dehydration.
I found it interesting that the Institute of Zoology have records of Whale strandings dating back to the 16th century. Locally, perhaps the most famous stranding being the Whale that was beached at Broadstairs in February 1762 which was recorded as weighing 70 tons. There is a tangible reminder of this stranding as a pair ribs from the Whale are displayed on the Harbour masters office at Broadstairs Harbour.
The recent stranding of the Sperm Whale was definitely a media event. However, the stranding of a Sperm Whale two hundred years ago would have made a important contribution to the local economy. As soon as the Whale had been sighted and come ashore it would had been Flenched which is basically cut up and every single piece utilised in some way and Whale meat would have defiantly have been on the menu for the local population.
Whale oil would also had been extracted as a valuable commodity which in 1810 would have been valued at £126 a ton. There are four grades of oil in a Sperm Whale oil the most prized being Spermaceti oil found in the head which was used as fuel for oil lamps, producing soap and manufacturing candles. The Whale oil was extracted by boiling down the blubber in cauldrons, with oil being also extracted by boiling down the skeleton, tongue and innards. To give a indication of how much oil can be extracted from a Sperm Whale, the only statistic I can come up with in my archive is a large male Elephant seal produces around 210 gallons of oil.
Ambergris another valuable commodity used in perfume making would have been extracted from the Whale innards.
Whale bone and teeth would have been another useful commodity used to make beads, corsets scrimshaw, handles etc., Over the past few days I have been gathering as much bone as I can from the Pegwell Bay hoverport site where the Whale was cut up and disposed of. To find the bone I had to pick through Whale innards, cut through lumps of Whale meat and tread trough Whale fat to find as many pieces as possible. Photographed above is some of the pieces I have retrieved so far, the largest piece measuring around 600mm x 450mm. I have boiled down the small pieces and have found that it is easy to work, so with any luck I may be able to produce Thanet 2011 scrimshaw.