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Bone spade

The bone spade, or baleen axe, is made of steel and used to remove baleen from a whale, which will eventually be used as material.

Baleen, also known as whalebone, are the fringed plates that line the upper jaw of certain types of whales. They help filter the small shellfish and krill that make up the whales’ staple diet. Basque fishermen harvest this highly rigid, elastic material to give structure to clothing and textile objects.

Whalebone is used to make corsets, corset stays (the early corsets), parasols, and umbrellas, all of which were very fashionable in Europe at the time.


Date: Replica of a 16th-century object

Origin: North America

Owner: Canadian Museum of History.


Delmas, V. (2018). Les pêcheurs basques au Canada, 1530–1760, de la culture matérielle à l’identité culturelle [Basque whalers in Canada, 1530–1760, from material culture to cultural identity] [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Université de Montréal.

Pope, P. E. (n.d.). Economic activities: Basque whalers. Digital museum of New France. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://www.historymuseum.ca/virtual-museum-of-new-france/economic-activities/basque-whalers/

Illustration: Bone spade