219 pages, 8 plates with b/w photos and b/w illustrations
In late November, 1893, a humpback whale – as rare a sight in the North Sea then as it would be now – followed herring shoals into the Tay estuary, and travelled as far upstream as Dundee docks to linger in the home waters of the biggest whaling fleet in Britain, and one of the biggest in Europe. The whale became an instant celebrity, known simply as the Monster, but a handful of boats were launched to try and catch it. The hunt was farcical, protracted, and ultimately grotesque – the whale remained elusive for four weeks before towing six vessels out past the Bell Rock lighthouse. All the lines parted in building seas and the whale escaped, but it was mortally wounded and was found floating off Stonehaven on January 6, bristling with ironmongery.
After a public auction was held for the corpse, the whale was hauled to Dundee. The public was charged sixpence or a shilling to see it, special trains were run from all over Angus, Perthshire and Fife, and for three shillings they could have their photograph taken sitting at a table inside the whale's propped open mouth. The whale was immortalised by the poetry of William McGonagall and went on tour by train on a specially built cradle to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, London and Edinburgh, before returning to Dundee. Its skeleton was presented to Dundee Museum, despite lucrative offers from big museums in London, Europe and America. The Winter Whale is a remarkable historical set piece, a product of its time, although even then public opinion was divided between glee and outrage, pro-whaler and pro-whale.
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Described by the Los Angeles Times Book Review as 'the best nature writer working in Britain today', Jim Crumley was born and grew up in Dundee where the skeleton of the Tay Whale hung from the ceiling of the city museum and haunted his childhood dreams. He has written 23 books to date and has made numerous documentaries for BBC Radio 4, Radio Scotland and Wildlife on One.