Policy

Whale: The Other Red Meat

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Peak whale?

In today's Wall Street Journal, whale meat gets reintroduced into the Icelandic diet after the end of a 20-year hunting ban:

In a bid to entice urban hipsters, [Gunnar Bergmann] Jonsson started selling marinated whale meat, vacuum-sealed and ready for cooking….At upscale meat shops, Mr. Jonsson began distributing free recipe cards that read, "A feast for the barbecue or the pan." Recipes include whale pepper steak and whale schnitzel.

Mr. Jonsson believes he can hook people—his age and younger—if they only try the stuff. It looks and tastes like beef but costs about half as much.

After trying a nibble of the other red meat—Moby Dick on a stick whale brochettes are popular with tourists—take a moment to thank the man who really saved the whales: John D. Rockefeller. 

In 1846, Americans dominated the whaling industry with 735 ships. John D. Rockefeller gets into the oil refining business in 1865. By 1876, kerosene is routing whale oil, and the whaling fleet was down to 39 ships, because kerosene was just so darn cheap:

The price of sperm oil reached its high of $1.77 per gallon in 1856; by 1896 it sold for 40 cents per gallon. Yet it could not keep pace with the price of refined petroleum, which dropped from 59 cents per gallon in 1865 to a fraction over seven cents per gallon in 1895. 

This dynamic is also instructive for those fretting that we're going to run out of oil, just as many undoubtedly worried that we were going to run out of whales. (Note to self: Check historical record for instances of the phrase "Peak Whale.")