A harpoon is a long spear-like instrument used in fishing to catch fish or other large aquatic animals such as whales. It accomplishes this task by impaling the target animal, with the fishermen then using the a rope or chain attached to the butt of the projectile to draw the creature in. A harpoon can also be used as a weapon.


Spearfishing with barbed poles (harpoons) was widespread in palaeolithic times. [Guthrie, Dale Guthrie (2005) [http://books.google.co.nz/books?id=3u6JNwMyMCEC&pg=PA298&lpg=PA298&dq=Cosquer+spear+fish&source=web&ots=JMnNQj1gPu&sig=2SgDhCZyGrWWNpMXz9y0DLSWmuE&hl=en#PPA298,M1 "The Nature of Paleolithic Art."] Page 298. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226311260] Cosquer cave in Southern France contains cave art over 16,000 years old, including drawings of seals which appear to have been harpooned. There are references to harpoons in ancient literature; though, in most cases, the descriptions do not go into detail. An early example from the Bible in Job : "Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish spears?".

The Greek historian Polybius ("ca" 203 BC–120 BC), in his Histories, describes hunting for swordfish by using a harpoon with a barbed and detachable head. [Polybius, [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plb.+34.3 "Fishing for Swordfish"] , "Histories" Book 34.3 (Evelyn S. Shuckburgh, translator). London, New York: Macmillan, 1889. Reprint Bloomington, 1962.] Copper harpoons were known to the seafaring Harappans [Ray 2003, page 93] well into antiquity. [Allchin 1975, page 106] Early hunters in India include the Mincopie people, aboriginal inhabitants of India's Andaman and Nicobar islands, who have used harpoons with long cords for fishing since early times. [Edgerton 2003, page 74]


For over 8000 years, the two flue harpoon was the primary weapon used in whaling around the world, but it cut through the blubber when under stress. This flaw was corrected with the creation of the single flue harpoon; by removing one of the flues, the head of the harpoon was narrowed, making it easier for it to penetrate deep enough to hold fast. In the Arctic, the indigenous people used the more advanced toggling harpoon design. In the early 19th century the one flue harpoon was introduced, which reduced failed harpoonings due to the head cutting its way out of the body of the whale. In the mid-19th century, the toggling harpoon was adapted by Lewis Temple, using iron. The Temple toggle was widely used, and quickly came to dominate whaling.

Explosive harpoons

In 1870 Svend Foyn successfully patented and pioneered the exploding harpoon and gun based on Erik Eriksen's idea and design. Together with the steam-powered whale catcher, this development ushered in the modern age of commercial whaling. Euro-American whalers were now equipped to hunt faster and more powerful species, such as the rorquals. Because rorquals sank when they died, later versions of the exploding harpoon injected air into the carcass to keep it afloat.

A certain type of explosive harpoon fired from a shoulder gun, first used by American whalemen in the mid-19th century, was called a "bomb lance."

Modern developments

The modern whaling harpoon consist of a deck-mounted launcher (mostly a cannon) and a projectile which is a large harpoon connected to a thick rope. The spearhead is shaped in a manner which allows it to penetrate the thick layers of whale blubber and stick in the flesh. It has sharp spikes to prevent the harpoon from sliding out. Thus, by pulling the rope with a motor, the whalers can drag the whale back to their ship.

A recent development in harpoon technology is the hand-held speargun. Divers use the speargun for defense against dangerous marine animals. They are also used for spearing fish. The speargun has been made famous in the entertainment industry by characters like James Bond and in similar action films with underwater fight scenes. Spearguns may be powered by pressurized gas or with mechanical means like springs or elastic bands.

ee also

* Trident
* Hawaiian sling



* Information about Erik Eriksen based on "The Discovery of King Karl Land, Spitsbergen", by Adolf Hoel, "The Geographical Review" Vol. XXV, No. 3, July, 1935, Pp. 476–478, American Geographical Society, Broadway AT 156th Street, New York" and Store norske leksikon, Aschehoug & Gyldendal (Great Norwegian Encyclopedia, last edition)
* F.R. Allchin in "South Asian Archaeology 1975: Papers from the Third International Conference of the Association of South Asian Archaeologists in Western Europe, Held in Paris" (December 1979) edited by J.E.van Lohuizen-de Leeuw. Brill Academic Publishers, Incorporated. Pages 106-118. ISBN 9004059962.
* Edgerton; et al. (2002). "Indian and Oriental Arms and Armour". Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 0486422291.
* Ray, Himanshu Prabha (2003). "The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia". Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521011094.

External links

* [http://www.whalecraft.net/Harpoons.html Whalecraft: Harpoons]

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