The whaling industry personified American prosperity for more than one hundred years. It employed seventy thousand sturdy seafarers and fueled hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses here and abroad, earning fortunes for boat owners and more than a few enterprising crewmates. The intrepid whaler was celebrated in song, story, and even high art, including what is arguably the greatest American novel, Melville's Moby-Dick. Whaling was a tale of courage and initiative—a tale of America.

Today nearly all the whales are gone, and so is the industry built around them. The decline began in the mid-1840s, when hunters ignored decreasing stocks and continued harpooning grays, rights, humpbacks, and other species of this enormous, ...

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