While the Europeans and Japanese dominated most of the whaling trade through the 1600's, American whaling came on to the scene at the very end of of the 17th century. Born off the coast of Long Island, American whaling came into full swing in the 18th century. Whalers would launch a multi-boat attack on whales, mostly right whales. At the time, they were so named because they were deemed to be the “right” whale to hunt due to their easy to spot water spouts and slow movements. Once a whale was surrounded, the whalers would begin their relentless and brutal assault using small hand held harpoons and lances, bombarding the whale until it slowly died.
In 1712, American whalers added the sperm whale to its list of victims. Bowhead whales were also targeted by American whaling fleets by the mid 1800's when the US reached its whaling peak between the years of 1846 and 1852.
The late 1800's saw a decline in American whaling due to a series of events and loss of ships. The American Civil War resulted in a loss of ships as well as other economic and strategic factors that began the steady decline. This was furthered in what is known as the “Whaling Disaster of 1871” in which the American Arctic Fleet lost a total of 33 of their whalers out of the forty they were operating. The “disaster” occurred while the fleet was chasing bowhead whales and the wind patterns changed abruptly, pushing several large ice packs around the fleet, encircling and trapping them. Only 7 of the ships were able to escape; however, of the ships that were lost, all 1,219 crew member managed to escape with their lives. The American whaling industry took another major hit in 1876 when 12 other vessels were lost.