Did people really use dead whales as ship fenders before WW2?

Hi I am kinda a newbie and came across this article https://max-groups.com/history-yokohama-fender-world/ .

Can anyone verify that did they REALLY used dead whales as fenders in Japan? I mean, it’s gotta stink, right?

Not the first time this ha been mentioned.

Before WW2, every Japanese ship had to stock a given number of frozen entire whales on board, to have the possibility to use these as big fenders, if ever needed! This was, maybe, the reason for the near extinction of the whales, not eating them. All this may have been…

For launching ships this could have been possible, by using otherwise useless pieces of whale bodies, not like the big Yokohama fenders today, but to grease the ramp.

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Yes they did use dead whales as fenders. Right whales float when dead and they used them as fenders when refuelling the catchers.

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Some places still use them today.


She’d better not be a cadet or you are in deep kimchi.


That’s gotta be Wisconsin

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Yes saw this when I googled about it. But there’s like not much credibility source aside from this article. Looking at the comments, guess it might have been true after all.

Thanks for the info Urs. I remember reading somewhere that whale oil is used to light up the nights somewhere, not sure if it’s Japan. So that might’ve contributed to the whale near extinction issue too?

It’s entirely plausible that someone somewhere did use a whale carcass as a fender at some point. Heck, it would surprise me if that wasn’t the case. However, the idea that this was the go-to solution for ship fendering is outright ludicrous.

The stink has been mentioned. Have you ever smelled a dead whale? It’s the type of thing that’s unpleasant from the other side of a mountain range. Consider the pollution problem of numerous dead whales decomposing in a harbor and which unholy soup would result from this practice over time. Also, dead whales are rather expensive to transport, and valuable for their raw materials, so this would never be an economical solution unless you happened to have a dead whale on hand when you needed a fender.

Checking the source for the above article makes it clear that this was mentioned as a side note in a talk on ship to ship transfer fendering, which strengthens my initial impression: Someone somewhere once used a whale carcass to fender two ships in open waters, and the story spun itself from there. I blame the brits.

Of course, I’d be delighted if someone could post a credible source to the contrary.



Whaler ms “Willem Barendsz”, the Dutch factory and mother ship.

Fendering with whales was the usual practice in those days and was necessary to avoid ships colliding in the often rather large swell. They were pumped with air to keep them afloat.

This was copied from a Dutch website and translated into English.

Tanker alongside the Dutch whaler Willem Barendsz (1957/1958)

After a week or four, five catching whales it is time to replenish the stock of fuels and a tanker appears. At a favorable time, the tanker is taken alongside with six large whales as fender (buffer) between the two ships. This maneuver requires the utmost concentration at the pipeline of both ships in order to ensure that no or minimal damage occurs. Something like that always happens in the open sea with swell and without a tugboat time.


ms Duivendrecht refueled the whaler, transferred stores such as fresh vegetables and fruit and loaded the whale oil for the return trip, also during one trip three lead coffins with deceased crew members were taken on board. Working on those ships was a dangerous business and accidents happened.


To refuel a much smaller catcher only one whale was used as a fender.