The invention (c.1856), by the Norwegian Sven Foyn, of a harpoon containing an explosive head may be said to have inaugurated modern whaling. Besides insuring the whale's immediate death this type of harpoon was subsequently modified to shoot compressed air into the whale so that it will not sink before it can be secured. The development of the factory ship, equipped to take on board and completely process whales caught by smaller chaser boats, increased safety and enhanced the ability to catch the larger blue whale. It also allowed for the use of all parts of the whale; formerly only the blubber and head could be procured, and the job of flensing from the side of the ship was a hazardous one.
In 1904 operations commenced from a whaling station on South Georgia, an island in the S Atlantic, and the modern industry found in Antarctic waters the last rich whaling fields on the globe. The number of expeditions from the Antarctic islands, however, was restricted by Great Britain, which had secured sovereignty over these areas. In 1925 the first floating factory was sent to the Antarctic regions; that innovation led to the greatest expansion in the history of whaling. In 1930 the modern whaling industry reached its zenith, with 6 shore stations, 41 floating factories, and 232 whale catchers in the Antarctic regions, of which 3 stations, 27 factory ships, and 147 catchers were Norwegian and 2 stations, 27 floating factories, and 68 catchers were British. During World War II most of the world's whaling fleet was lost, but afterward Norway, Britain, and Japan (which had started Antarctic expeditions in 1935) soon reestablished their prewar positions, and in addition the Soviet Union, the Netherlands, and South Africa appeared in the Antarctic regions for the first time.
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