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A whale of a job part 8: A whale from Haarlem?

Posted on 27-09-2017 by Becky Desjardins

A Whale of a Job, part 8

The Dutch city of Haarlem is not on the coast. Therefore, it was very strange to find a single whale bone, a shoulder blade, in our collection that had been discovered during construction on the Schalkwijkerbrug in 1926. That is the center of Haarlem, how could it have ended up there? The finders of the bone identified it as a Bowhead whale. If this identification is correct, than it probably was not from the Dutch Coast. Bowhead whales, until this last summer of 2017, had never been recorded in the North Sea.

The first suggestion was that perhaps the whale was hunted somewhere else but butchered in the Netherlands, back in the days of whale hunting. A bit of internet sleuthing turned up the fact that there was quite a whale hunting industry based in the Netherlands, but it was not Haarlem, but the North Holland town of De Rijp which was the center for whale butchering. That in itself is interesting, because this town in North Holland is now in the middle of a polder, though prior to 1612 it was on the Zuiderzee.

A bit more research (and helpful translation by my colleagues) and we found in the early 1700’s, there was a factory in Haarlem that made soap from whale oil. This bone must be from processing related to that. If this is the case, than this bone is one of the oldest objects in the Naturalis collection!  

On the data tag for this specimen, it is notated that the finders used the beautiful illustrations in this old French book to identify the bone. It is worth taking a peak! Ostéographie des cétacés vivants et fossiles.  

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