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First Whales Sighted: April 14-21st, 1811

April 15, 2011

The Resolution‘s slow progress to the whaling grounds continued throughout April, but on the 14th, in conditions alternating between snow and “delightful Clear weather” Scoresby spotted Bottlenose dolphins, and a species of whale he called “Finners”. Ian C. Jackson adds a note on whales species to this entry in the journal suggesting he may have been referring to the Sei Whale, Balaenoptera borealis, but that Arctic whalers seemed to have used the name “Finners” to cover several species. Towards the end of the century, when coal gas had supplanted whale oil as a fuel for lamps, Fin Whales were disregarded by whalers, as being inferior sources of oil.

Alternating clear and squally weather accompanied the Resolution to Latitude 74 degrees North, which they reached on April 16, as thick snow began to fall at around 5am. By now large pieces of ice were beginning to appear, one of which Scoresby estimated at 60 feet high. He estimated that they were near to “Cherry Island,” better known as Bear Island, a desolate rock, west of Spitzbergen, and south of the Svalbard archipelago. Over the next two days, the sea was full of ice, of varying kinds, and in chunks of different sizes, then on the 18th, sailing in a gale through haze and fog: “By hazy I mean that wetting haze and which resembles very small rain and is sometimes called Scotch Mist. By Fog I would imply the thick mist often occurs here in particular seasons and which wetsvery little.

Later that day, the Resolution fell in with the Henrietta, of Whitby, and the Bernie of Grimsby. Captain Kearsley of the Henrietta had been catching seals, a common make weight in the absence of whales. Anxious to make further progress northwards, Scoresby pushed on through the ice, and on the 19th came within sight of Spitzbergen, and with five ships in sight, he concluded that his reckoning had been correct so far, to within 10 miles. Scoresby took breakfast with Captain Volum of the Enterprize, declaring him “of good Scotch Character and a person of intelligence” before pressing the ship North once more. They were by now at Lat. 76 degrees North. On Sunday April 21st, boats were prepared for the fishery:

At noon called all hands got all the whale lines on deck took one boat out of the tween decks, sorted all the Lines and coyled away those of 4 Boats viz two in the tween decks, the six oared Boat on deck, and the Stern Boat fitted them for the fishery. Saw several Razor Backs [Balaenoptera Gibbar].

By now the whaling grounds were near. In open water surrounded by ice, Scoresby counted 23 sail of ships.

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