What whale did the Viking settler (yr 1000) find/eat?

From: Erich Hoyt (erich.hoyt@mac.com)
Date: Thu Dec 09 2004 - 16:12:41 EST

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    On 9 Dec 2004, at 19:27, victoria Aleman wrote:

    > Erich,
    > We are a homeschool family that has recently studied about the Vikings
    > and their attempt to settle in the New World.  Their first winter here
    > (about 1000 AD) food was scarce.  When a whale washed up on shore,
    > they boiled and ate it.  They did have a knowledgeable whaler with
    > them, but for some reason he didn't notice it was inedible.  After
    > they ate it, they became sick.
    > We want to know which whale it could have possibly been that they ate.
    > I've tried poking around in the information on the Whalenet website
    > and on others, but haven't found sufficient information.
    > We know from studying Right Whales (Right Whale Unit study from the
    > Whalenet site) and reading in books from the library the following
    > information:
    >   * it had to be a whale that floated and didn't sink when it died
    >   * since they boiled it, either they ate the meat or the oil
    >   * some whales are edible and some are not
    >   * possibly a Northern Right Whale (since the Vikings settled near
    > the vicinity of Rt Whale feeding waters)
    > We are eagerly awaiting your reply.
    > Gratefully,
    > Victoria, Sean and Rosy Aleman
    > (mom, 9 yr old son, and 6 yr old daughter)
    > Cedar Park, TX

    This is a very interesting question but I don't think we can do more
    than speculate a little. First of all, if a whale washed up on shore,
    it could have made them ill simply because the whale had died at sea or
    was carrying pathogens from being ill and so forth. Most whale species
    have been eaten at one time or another, although sperm whales, for
    example, were primarily used for their oil. That the whale floated
    means little because many species of whales will float when it starts
    to bloat and before it washes on shore.

    You say it was winter? Baleen whales, including right whales would
    usually be in warm temperate or tropical waters then, although blues
    and some others sometimes stay till ice forms in January (we know this
    for Quebec at least). However, if it were a sick whale it could be
    anything I suppose. A very sick whale might not have bothered to
    undertake a migration in the autumn when most baleen whales migrate.

    If you could find out whether the whale had teeth or baleen plates, the
    approximate size or any other clues, we might be able to narrow this
    down more. A North Atlantic right whale is certainly possible, but so
    is a humpback, blue, minke, sperm, pilot, orca, various beaked whale

    Sorry I can't be more helpful, but I think the answer is we don't

    Erich Hoyt

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