The Nantucket Whaling Museum

When we entered the museum we were just hoping to spend a good 30 minutes in the air conditioning and learn a bit about the history of Nantucket... 2 1/2 hours later we finally finished exploring this wonderful museum!

We had the choice to purchase just a museum ticket or for $5 more also tour three historical homes all within walking distance of the museum.  We chose to purchase the additional pass but ran out of time to tour any of the homes.  Maybe we'll make it back to Nantucket one day and can tour the homes then as they looked rather impressive.

We began walking around the first floor when we heard an announcement that they were going to have  talk about whaling life.  We sat for the very informative slide show presentation that taught us what is was like working on a whaling ship from the perspective of a 13 year old boy "greenhorn" just starting out.

Living near a few other whaling communities we had heard some stories before but some things from this presentation really stuck out in my mind-- they were gone for 3-5 YEARS per whaling expedition as it typically took that long to fill up the boat with whale oil, only 1 in 4 men made it back alive, most workers weren't paid all that well, you didn't want to be the smallest man on the ship since that was who typically got to climb into the head cavity of the sperm whale and clean out the spermaceti (used to make candles).

Just check out the sperm whale skeleton size in comparison to the boat they used to catch the whales! 
 After that presentation we moved into the next room to read about how they processed the spermaceti into candles.

We also learned about the great fire that burned most of the town down... it started in a hat making shop and with the whale oil stored in town quickly spread-- even explosions from the wharf set boats on fire out in the marina! Over 300 homes were burned to the ground and as the whale oil industry was already on the decline Nantucket had a hard time rebuilding.

The spermaceti is a liquid at room temperature and a very large press was used to get every last drop of spermaceti out... since the whaling museum is IN the old shop the press is still set up in place; it's HUGE and they had a few great displays about how it works (it's the second photo).

These burlap bags would have contained the oil and the beam would press down on then forcing the waxy substance into the catch basins below

The museum also had lots of sea creature skeletons on display and information about the various types of whales they would have hunted.

This shows just how many whaling fleets there were back in it's heyday-- Nantucket was considered the whaling capital of the world by the end of the 1820's!

Much of the island's industry was focused on whaling-- everything from boat building to candle factories, and sail making shops.

The ships that returned full of whale oil were so heavy they could not make it into Nantucket harbor (that has a large sandbar across it) so a system was made where these two barges would be filled up with water, brought under the boat, tied together and then emptied of water.  They would float and bring the whale oil boats higher in the water to get back into harbor.

Around the time we entered the room dedicated to the whaling ship the Essex we heard that another talk was taking place about that very ship.  We headed back down to listen to the tale... the Essex had sailed around the tip of Cape Horn at the very bottom of South America and was hunting whales in the south pacific when a sperm whale rammed into the ship's broadside and sunk her.  It was a slow enough leak that the crew could grab some food, water, navigation supplies, and such and escape into their smaller rowing boats they used to catch whales.

Due to a series of unfortunate events the 20 man crew spent so long at sea that they soon ran out of water, food, and resorted to eating those that had died.  Only 8 crew members were ever rescued and the only thing saved from the ship was a tiny piece of string...  this is the very story that brought about the tale of Moby Dick.

We finished up the museum by heading into the arts and crafts area.  Lightship baskets, scrimshaw and assorted whale bone crafts were on display.  There was also a fine arts room with various painters and mediums on display.

We took the elevator up to the rooftop observation deck and looked around. It was a perfectly clear day for looking all around.

You can read about the rest of our day on Nantucket here.


  1. WOW! What a cool museum! Thank you for this very informative virtual tour. Love the photos.

    1. You're welcome! It really was such a neat museum.

  2. What a cool place! Not like anywhere else we've been. And I would have loved to tour the houses nearby, too. I'll have to remember that option in case we ever decide to plan a trip.

    1. I was so bummed we didn't have enough time to tour the houses too; they looked fantastic when I Googled them. We'll definitely have to plan a trip back. I was thinking a long weekend in the off season.. perhaps.

  3. Thanks so much for linking up at the #UnlimitedMonthlyLinkParty 3! Shared.

  4. Thank you for sharing at #OverTheMoon. Pinned and shared.

  5. Looks like a great place to visit. Thanks for sharing at Creative Mondays :)

    1. It was such a neat museum! So filled with local history...


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