Tuesday, June 12, 2007

19th-century weapon found in bowhead whale

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A 50-ton bowhead whale caught off the Alaskan coast last month had a weapon fragment embedded in its neck that showed it survived a similar hunt _ more than a century ago. Embedded deep under its blubber was a 3 1/2-inch arrow-shaped projectile that has given researchers insight into the whale's age, estimated between 115 and 130 years old.

Calculating a whale's age can be difficult, and is usually gauged by amino acids in the eye lenses. It's rare to find one that has lived more than a century, but experts say the oldest were close to 200 years old.

The bomb lance fragment, lodged a bone between the whale's neck and shoulder blade, was likely manufactured in New Bedford, on the southeast coast of Massachusetts, a major whaling center at that time, Bockstoce said.

It was probably shot at the whale from a heavy shoulder gun around 1890. The small metal cylinder was filled with explosives fitted with a time-delay fuse so it would explode seconds after it was shot into the whale. The bomb lance was meant to kill the whale immediately and prevent it from escaping.

The 49-foot male whale died when it was shot with a similar projectile last month, and the older device was found buried beneath its blubber as hunters carved it with a chain saw for harvesting.

After it is analyzed, the fragment will be displayed at the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska.

Source : washingtonpost




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