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The Basque harpoon is used to strike and wound whales at the beginning of the hunt. It is made of a wooden shaft and a removable metal shank ending in a V-shaped point. Once the harpoon is launched, its metal head, to which a line is attached, detaches from the wooden shaft, and penetrates the whale’s body. The boat is then towed by the whale’s force. After the whale is struck by one or several harpoons, the whalers use spears to finish off the animal, wounding it in a vital organ as it rises to the surface to breathe. The whale is then hauled to shore.

The harpoon is handled by the harpooner, an important member of the crew who holds officer status, just like the cooper and the carpenter.


Date: Replica of a 16th-century object

Origin: North America

Owner: Canadian Museum of History.


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/

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matérielle à l’identité culturelle [Basque whalers in Canada, 1530–1760, from material culture to cultural identity] [Unpublished doctoral dissertation].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.

Illustration: Harpoon