[MARMAM] New paper on German whale research in the 1930s

Klaus Barthelmess barthval at t-online.de
Mon Dec 6 07:03:02 PST 2010

Dear Marmamers,

My 2009 [published 2010], 40-page, colorfully illustrated, German-language
paper on "German whale research in the 1930s, its function in the national
whaling policy, its scientific results and perception", which was published
Historisch-meereskundliches Jahrbuch, 15, , pp. 53-92 is now availabe in an
8.1 MB zipped PDF download from our colleague Jan Hermann's website:


Click on the DOWNLOAD button on the right. It comes with an English summary,
which, for your convenience, you'll also find below.


Klaus Barthelmess
barthval at t-online.de

German whale research in the 1930s, its function within the national whaling
policy, its scientific results and international perception.
The article describes the background, purpose, organisation, scope,
subjects, scientific merits and the international perception of German
cetacean research conducted between 1936 and 1943, when Germany was the
world¹s third largest pelagic whaling nation, accounting for up to 12% of
total Antarctic whale catches. Initially, as the leading consumer of whale
oil, Germany had had a powerful position on the market, which had made
whaling under her own flag unnecessary. This changed in 1935, when Norwegian
whale oil producers substantially increased prices, making a bilateral trade
clearing agreement dysfunctional. New German whaling figured prominently in
the Nazi Four-Year-Plan. To put the new industry on a sound footing, its
operational, logistic and technological aspects were from the start
organized in a systematic and often innovative way. Aspects of international
law relating to pelagic whaling in the Antarctic were dealt with by Germany
signing (but not ratifying) the International Agreement for the Regulation
of Whaling, negotiated in London in 1937. The London Agreement stipulated
the collection of biological data relevant to age and reproduction patterns
of whales. The industry had an interest in their migration patterns as well
as their temporal and spatial distribution. Accordingly, a national whales¹
research institute was founded in Hamburg. Like several other whaling
nations, Germany also despatched an Antarctic geographical research
expedition in 1938/39 to ascertain her legal standing in case other nations
proceeded to lay claims of sovereignty over parts of Antarctica and the
adjoining, whale-rich waters. Whales were studied not only during this
geographical research expedition, but also on board the seven German
floating whale factory ships. 14 scientists conducted field research on the
whaling grounds or worked in the research institute. The costs for whale
research were budgeted with the ministry of food and agriculture. Besides
systematic observations of whale presence, reliable catch statistics were
kept on board the floating factories. Other research topics included
anatomical and food studies of krill, the main food of several baleen whale
species, plankton studies, relationships between diatom presence on whales¹
skins and their body conditions, hydrographical analyses of water bodies,
whale blood morphology and embryology. There were no innovative trends in
German whale research. Its topics continued previous British and Norwegian
whale research, broadening their scope by adding data from ocean areas
hitherto unstudied. Some preliminary results were published in two special
issues of a fisheries research journal during the war. However, they were
written in German and not in English. Furthermore, the inter-institutional
exchange of publications was severed in those years. Finally, many
biological samples collected were destroyed during the war, so that when
peace was restored, the small volume of surviving samples permitted no
analysis of scientific significance. For these reasons, the international
scientific perception of German whale research was almost nil. However, the
director of the whales¹ research institute had been commissioned to edit a
whaling handbook for all those decision makers involved with the new
industry in Germany. It covered historical, legal, scientific and technical
aspects of whales and whaling. Unlike the scientific studies, this
pioneering handbook was widely perceived and would become the prototype for
similar handbooks published by Japanese, Dutch and Russian newcomers to
Antarctic whaling. The article concludes with a brief outlook over German
whale research interests in occupied Norway during Word War II and trends in
national whale research after the war.

More information about the MARMAM mailing list