Whaling in Kos in Valtena | World Anvil

Whaling in Kos

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Written by Mikali Rennard

What northern child doesn't look at the ocean and dream of seeing a pod of majestic whales? It's a dream that lures many young children to sea.
Quentar, Sailor's Log of Ruulmas
Whaling is a lucrative industry comprised of the hunting and processing of whales found in the world's oceans. It has a long history on Kos with the first records of whaling activity dating back nearly a thousand years. It touches nearly everyone's lives on Kos from the oil used in cooking and in lamps to clothing, art, medicine, and manufacturing. Along the coasts, whale meat is a popular delicacy. Several species of whale are hunted, and the high value of goods from rare species of whale tempts some captains to sail for years in search of them. Despite the necessity and ubiquitous presence of whale goods on Kos, it is an extremely dangerous profession. Each year, sailors die in the hunt, and there is always the chance that a whale will sink a ship.

We've already been forty-seven days at sea, and all I've seen is water, waves, and a school of jumping fish. The heart of a whaler yearns for only one thing after weeks and months at sea: The cry of "There she blows!" from the crow's nest or the forecastle. For the whale is a reminder of life and death. For one to live, the other must die. In that moment of spotting a spout of water or a tail as the creature dives below, a whaler feels most alive and ready to leap for his harpoon and cast off the longboat. And in the moment after, he wonders if this voyage will be his last.
— Quentar, Sailor's Log of Ruulmas

Ships and Crews


The ships used for whaling were designed to be able to cross oceans at all latitudes. They were typically square rigged, though whaling schooners were popular for shorter voyages that stayed closer to the coast. Ships were purchased and built by companies, and the largest companies owned fleets of ships which were continually at sea hunting whales. Most of the ship was dedicated to storing whale oil and bones. There were also large vats in the center of the ship for boiling down fat into oil. Whaleboats hung off the sides of the ship. Notably, despite whaling ships possessing such valuable cargo, they were't equipped with cannons because that took away from space for storing whale products. As such, they were lucrative targets for pirates and privateers.


Whaling ship crews tend to be made up of young adults. The crews are known to be extremely diverse in all regards. On shore, they had a rough reputation, but among each other, the crews embraced belonging at sea more than on land. Sailors were hired for each voyage, though the length of the voyages. At the end of each voyage, the crews were paid out from a percentage of the ship's profits. These percentages were fixed by the Northern Nautical Confederation, and the exact wages varied depending on how profitable the voyage was. Also, any member of the crew could purchase a share of the voyage in 0.1% increments at a fixed rate set by the company. Expenses for supplies are deducted from a sailor's wages, and in some cases, sailors could end up severely indebted to the company. The NNC regulates what a company can charge to prevent sailors from becoming so severely indebted that they're unable to work for a different company within the Confederation.
Rank Description Rate of pay
Captain The captain is hired on by the company that owns the ship. They're in charge of the ship as a whole and as a representative of the company. The captain manages the ship logs and expenses. The captain is expected to be a capable sailor, navigator, businessman, and supervisor. They were als responsible for recruiting their own crews. Popular captains were known to have sailors who followed them from ship to ship. This kind of stability benefitted the companies that the captains worked for by providing a regular stream of experienced crews without the need to spend extra on recruiting. 8%
Mates The number of mates varies between ships, though most only have three to four. The mates are in charge of the day to day operations of the ship and directly manage their whaleboat crew. During a hunt, the mates act as the skippers on the whaleboat and call orders. They are expected to be experienced sailors, and most mates were former harpooners. The exact position is determined by the captain rather than seniority which has led to concerns about favoritism. 2-3%
Craftsmen Sailors with experience as carpenters, smiths, coopers, cooks, sailmakers, and other trades were often recruited as craftsmen. They were still expected to be able to assist the rest of the crew in handling the ship and acted as sailors during a hunt, but their jobs were otherwise to perform their trade. It was a lucrative position for older sailors and was safer than being on the whaleboats. 1.5%
Harpooners Harpooners stood at the front of the whaleboat during a hunt and were tasked with plunging the harpoon into the whale. It was a job that required a lot of physical strength. They were typically experienced sailors in their own right and berthed away from the rest of the crew. They were often allowed more freedoms than ordinary sailors and weren't expected to aid in sailing the ship except under severe weather. 1%
Crew Most of the people on board a ship consisted of the crew. They were professionals sailors and served as oarsmen on a hunt. Sailors were eligible for a bonus for being the first one to spot a whale which was then successfully hunted. Unlike the navy which distinguished between three classes of sailors, whaling ships only had ordinary seamen and landsmen. Ordinary seamen had at least one year of experience and had completed one voyage. 0.5-0.8%
Ship Boys The youngest members of the crew are the ship boys. They're servants for the officers and are on board to learn how to become sailors. Though paid the least, it's often more money than can be earned from begging or day labor. It also comes with the assurance of a bed and regular meals. After a whale is killed, the boys are given the dirtiest task of descending into the whale carcass to harvest organs and oil. Most boys are either orphans or come from poor families in port cities. 0.4%

Untouched by Magic

The Treatise on Whaling and Similar Creatures only forbids fire mages from working on board whaling ships. The wooden ships and presence of highly flammable oil makes any stray spark a significant danger to the rest of the crew and goods. Since before the Treatise was signed, mages were rare on whaling ships. The ships remained largely devoid of magic items, and the practice of hunting whales relies on physical strength and grit. In Otorveia, mages are closely regulated by the Academy, and young mages don't have the opportunity to go to sea. The northern cities in Kos which rely more heavily on whaling and don't have the same restrictions as Otorveia still experience the same lack of mages on whaling crews.
The Ekkino Institute at Kealriv published their findings of a survey regarding making whaling more enticing to mages. The report lists that 63% of mages didn't become whalers due to low pay, 22% said it was too dangerous, and 8% weren't interested in a maritime career. However, only 38% reported that they'd seriously considered becoming a whaler in the past. Using data from the Northern Nautical Confederation, the survey listed a series of wages based on an average profit. Respondants overwhelmingly reported that they would expect the wages of a captain or first mate to go to sea.
— The Magic of Seafarers, NNC Review


Despite the number of whaling ships that cruise the oceans, the number of whales remains fairly constant. The Northern Nautical Confederation tightly controls whaling. Each ship can physically only carry one or two whales at a time, and there's very little that can't be used and sold. Each whaling ship is registered with the NNC, and the logbooks record the date and type of each whale spotted and hunted. Sightings that don't result in a hunt are also noted. Failure to comply with regulation leads to fines for the captain and company, and in extreme cases, revoking ship licenses.   The importance of maintaining whale populations arose following the disastrous seasons of 301-303 IA when ships struggled to find one whale in a season, and an unuaully large number of shipwrecks threatened the entire industry. After praying to the Sea Mother, she revealed through her speaker that the course the whalers were on only lead to the ruination of their livelihoods and her whales. Prior to her intervention, it was common practice to strip the whales of their blubber and let the rest of the carcass sink. With this new revelation, the NNC revised their regulations and opened up the doors for new markets of whale products. This proved to be a profitable decision, and the NNC continues to regulate whaling trade north of Otorveia.

Whaling in Culture

Whaling in Art

For centuries, whaling has captured the imagination of painters and authors alike. It strikes a chord with those who love danger and adventure, and the whaler in mythos is the common man surviving against the odds in an unforgiving world. Paintings romanticize the dangerous profession with depictions of large aggressive whales being struck by harpooners from flimsy wooden boats. On shore, whalers are depicted as hard working battle hardened people which is in sharp contrast to the unruly and troublesome navy sailor or the slothful and despondent merchant sailor. One of the most well known modern whaling painters is Faunistir. His works are recognizable for showing whaling ships against dramatic backgrounds, and the whales take on a larger than life quality. While they are not the most accurate depictions of whaling, they capture the hearts of what people think whaling is like.

The whalers also produce art during the long months of sailing. Scrimshaw is the most widely recognize art form, and many whalers sell their pieces to supplement their meager pay. The subject matter varies greatly, though most scrimshaw collectors seek out art of daily life and sea creatures. Brokers are a common sight in whaling ports, and they offer to buy art and pay in hard coins immediately. It's a tempting offer compared to waiting for the oil, meat, and bones to sell before being paid out. However, due to poor regulation, unscrupulous brokers exist and pay desperate sailors well below the value of their art and sell to collectors at exorbitant rates.


The Whale Mother

One of the greatest taboos a harpooner can commit is killing a whale with calf. It's not uncommon for a whaling ship to come across a mother or calf alone and start the hunt, but upon discovering the whale's companion, the hunt ceases. Pods of whales with calves are left alone for fear of killing one or the other. According to legend, a whaling ship killed and slaughtered a whale calf when it strayed too far from its mother. She followed the ship back to port, and her mourning cries echoed across the bay for a month. The bay froze over, and the ice pierced the ship causing it to sink. The entire town suffered, and all who ate the calf fell ill and died. After consulting a priestess, the people discovered that the cause of their misfortune was a curse set on them by the whale mother for the death of her calf.

Bere Gal

One whale above all others must never be hunted. He was created by Valtena to guard the seas. Bere Gal is rarely seen by sailors, and he cruises the world's oceans. But, during unusually violent storms, some whalers report to have seen a massive whale that glows white under the waves. He's so large that a ship can sail over him and from bowsprit to stern not even reach from head to dorsal fin. Ships that follow his light are led out of the storm, and then he slips back deep under the water. The whale is revered by sailors as a beacon of hope. On whaling ships, all harpoons are stored below deck out of reverence and commitment never to hunt Bere Gal.

Beached Whales

Along the coasts, beached whales are an inevitable occurrence. Finding a live stranded whale is an omen of madness and ill fortune. Offerings to the Sea Mother can lessen the severity of unfortunate events, but the only way to stop them entirely is by pushing the whale back into the sea. A dead whale however is a sign of a crisis averted. The whale must be harvested and the meat and organs donated to the Sea Mother's temple. In return, the High Priestess blesses one of the finger bones. The donation is a show of gratitude for the creature who died and absorbed a person's misfortune. Fifty years ago, there was a mass beaching near the town of Utgerd. It took dozens of whaling crews to harvest all the animals, and the entire country was fed for the year off dried whale meat. Shortly after the beaching, the Otorim army called off their invasion of the Northern Confederation and let them retain their independence.

Whaling Idioms

Several common phrases trace their roots back to whaling.
Phrase Meaning Example Origin
Lower your boat Get to work Stop slacking and lower your boat! After sighting a whale, the crew would lower down smaller boats into the water to hunt and kill the whale. It was here that the most dangerous part of the job began.
Gone to dive Doing something that's futile She's gone to dive trying to repair that tattered dress. After being harpooned, a whale will often dive below the water to try and escape the whalers. However, the harpoons are either tied to the boats or buoys. The causes the whale to eventually tire and come back to the surface for air where the whalers strike it until dead.
Blood oil A great sacrifice I'd give blood oil to be rich and famous. Whaling was a dangerous profession, and it wasn't uncommon for people to die in the hunt. Oil was the most common resource harvested from whales. Oil sold from a very lethal voyage was known as blood oil as a grim reminder of all the lives lost to acquire it.
Pulled along Forced to do something I was pulled along to this insufferable event. The harpoons were attached to the boats so that when the whale swam away, the boat would be pulled along with it. Usually, the whale was harpooned from multiple boats. Except for cutting the line, the boats went where ever the whale swam.
Sailing for the sun An improvement to a situation The worst is over, and now we're sailing for the sun. Whaling ships often sailed into cold and unforgiving waters in search of whales. Once they were loaded with as much as they could carry, they sailed back to port located in warmer waters. When the ship changed its heading to go back home, it was called sailing for the sun.
Harpooneer (insult) Someone in a position they don't deserve The new boss is a harpooneer. He has to be someone's cousin. The harpooner was a coveted position on whaling ships. They were the ones who stood at the front of the boat to harpoon the whales. The position came with a larger fraction of the profit than ordinary sailors who rowed the whaling boats. The term harpooneer originated from non-whalers combining the words harpooner and buccaneer, the latter was often portrayed as overly flambouyant and hedonistic.
Flensing Working hard There's no time to relax; I'm flensing to get this done in time. Flensing was the process of cutting the fat off the whale with long knives. It was hard and back breaking work that could takes days for large whales. Whales caught from shore or near land were dragged up onto the beach and had the blubber stripped on shore. At sea, the process required sailors to stand on the whale while it was in the water and cut long strips of blubber which were then hoisted onto the deck to be rendered into oil.
Flenser (insult) A tryhard That flenser tries to do everything, but she's always making mistakes. This term was derived from flensing, and originally meant someone who is working hard. It shares similar roots to the now archaic term "to be flensed" which meant to be exhausted. Over time, the term flenser was used as a pejorative to describe someone who put in a show of working hard while getting nothing done or someone who was too eager to work with mediocre results.
A spout with no tail False promises He thought he was getting the trip of a lifetime, but it was a spout with no tail. Whales were spotted by the spout of water coming out of their blowholes when they surfaced. Afterwards, the fluke becomes visible as the whale dives back under the water. Sometimes, waves and sea spray could be mistaken for a whale's water spout especially after months of not sighting anything. Without any further confirmation such as spotting the tail or body, the search continued.

Cover image: Lowering Boats by Clifford Warren Ashley


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