The year is 1850. There aren’t any iPhones, factory farming hasn’t released its wrath unto the Earth, and climate change just meant that the weather was feeling a bit warmer that day.

Yet even in 1850, despite the vast differences from today’s world, there were many similarities. While the oceans hadn’t yet been filled with plastic, there was another major threat to marine animals: whaling.

In a letter written by a captain of a whaling vessel, from the perspective of a Bowhead Whale, the whale pleas for peace from his fellow animal, humans. Published in The Honolulu Friend on October 15, 1850, his words continue to resonate.

The letter begins:

A Polar Whale’s Appeal

October 15, 1850

Anadir Sea, North Pacific

The second Year of Trouble

Mr. Editor, – In behalf of my species, allow an inhabitant of this sea, to make an appeal through your columns to the friends of the whale in general.

A few of the knowing old inhabitants of this sea have recently held a meeting to consult respecting our safety, and in some way or other, if possible, to avert the doom that seems to await all of the whale Genus throughout the world, including the Sperm, Right and Polar whales.

The “Bowhead whale” in this letter anticipates the doom to come. Every year, for the last 83 years, 16,000 whales were murdered. Due to a rapid increase in demand for whale meat in certain countries, whaling practices went into overdrive at the turn of the last century. From 1904 to 1987, an estimated 1,339,232 whales were killed by commercial whaling fleets in the Antarctic alone. Could the “whale “penning this letter have fathomed such devastation to come?

We have imagined that we were safe in these cold regions; but no; within these last two years a furious attack has been made upon us, an attack more deadly and bloody, than any of our race ever experienced in any part of the world.

I scorn to speak of the cruelty that has been practised by our blood-thirsty enemies, armed with harpoon and lance; no age or sex has been spared. Multitudes of our species (the Polar), have been murdered in “cold” blood.

Our enemies have wondered at our mild and inoffensive conduct; we have heard them cry, “there she blows,” and our hearts have quailed as we saw their glittering steel reflecting the sun beams, and realized that in a few moments our life-blood oozing out, would discolor the briny deep in which we have gambolled for scores of years.

Even though scientists had not yet uncovered whales’ complexity, there was certainly a sense that these marine mammals were wise and undeserving of such ruthless murder. Today we know that whales are extremely intelligent and emotional. The brain of the orca is four times larger than the human brain, weighing in at 12 pounds. Their brains have been evolving for millions of years, while modern-day humans first emerged about 200,000 years ago, so it’s safe to assume that their cognitive development is at least as advanced as ours – if not considerably more so! And with complex familial and social relationships, we can gather that these creatures are highly self-aware and adaptable. These animals live in tight matrilineal pods, composed of grandmothers, mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  They typically choose to remain with their immediate family group for the rest of their lives. However, with threats such as whaling, there’s no knowing when family members will be ripped from their pods or brutally murdered.

Finally, in a touching plea, the whale concludes:

We polar whales are a quiet inoffensive race, desirous of life and peace, but, alas, we fear our doom is sealed; we have heard the threat that in one season more we shall all be “cut up,” and “tried out.” Is there no redress?

I write in behalf of my butchered and dying species. I appeal to the friends of the whole race of whales. Must we all be murdered in cold blood? Must our race become extinct? Will no friends and allies arise and revenge our wrongs? Will our foes be allowed to prey upon us another year?

We have heard of the power of the “Press;” pray give these few lines a place in your columns, and let them go forth to the world. I am known among our enemies as the “Bowhead,” but I belong to the Old Greenland family.

Yours till death,


If you’d like to support the work of The Oceania Project, who unearthed this powerful letter while conducting research for their organization, consider making a donation! They are a “not-for-profit research and education organisation dedicated to raising awareness about Cetacea (Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises) and the Ocean Environment through research, information, education and net-working.” With letters like this one, it’s hard to ignore the battle that must be fought to save the whales! They might be the largest animals in the oceans, but unfortunately, we have come out as the stronger – now the choice is whether we will use that strength to destroy or protect these animals. Which will you choose?

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons