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During the latter half of the 19th and into the 20th centuries, whaling fleets from a variety of nations concentrated their efforts far to the North, among the bergs and ice pack of Alaska’s north slope.  This was one of the last refuges of the oil-rich Bowhead whale. 

The harsh extremes found in the Arctic made the hunt particularly hazardous, and on two occasions, 1871 and 1876, whole fleets were trapped by the ice and crushed. These losses marked the downfall of the American whaling effort, already in decline due to the impacts on marine mammal populations and the American Civil War.

In June of 1865, during a desperate campaign to strike a blow to the economy of the North, the Confederate raider SHENANDOAH seized and burned to the waterline 22 whalers working in the Bering Sea and Strait, the captain of the warship not believing reports from the vessels they were destroying that the war had already ended.  The saga of the SHENANDOAH, the subsequent losses of 1871 and 1876, combined with other whalers abandoned and sunk by ice and gale in this region, left a legacy of shipwrecks and artifacts scattered throughout the Bering Sea and along the shore and nearshore waters of the Chukchi and Beaufort

These are compelling and historically significant stories from our whaling heritage. Discover them here.