New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

Audio Availability: loading...

Total Audio Length: loading...

OVERVIEW: About this Audio-Described Brochure

Welcome to the audio-described version of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park’s official print brochure. Through text and audio descriptions of photos, illustrations, and maps, this version interprets the two-sided color brochure that New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park visitors receive. The brochure explores the history of the park, some of its highlights, and information for planning your visit. This audio version lasts about 28 minutes, which we have divided into 13 sections. Section 1-4 cover the front of the brochure and includes information about the beginning of whaling industry in New Bedford. Sections 5-13 cover the back of the brochure and include information about the park.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, located in New Bedford, Massachusetts, is part of the National Park Service, within the Department of the Interior. This 34-acre park is dispersed over 13 city blocks. New Bedford was included in the national park system in 1996. Each year, thousands of visitors come to enjoy the unique experiences only New Bedford can offer. We invite you to explore the park's natural beauty and rich history. To find out more about what resources might be available or to contact the park directly, listen to the "Accessibility" and "More Information" sections at the end of this audio-described brochure.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Front Side of Brochure

The top half of the front of the brochure is a world map, with light-blue oceans and white land masses, that shows clusters of dark-blue dots in various spots around the globe, where whales congregated. The bottom half of the front of the brochure is a collage of images. 

↑ back to top

TEXT: Seeking Light, Finding Freedom

New Bedford owes its era of greatest prosperity, 1825 to 1925, to the business acumen of its founding Quaker families. They moved their whaleships and related business interests from Nantucket, America’s first whaling center, to New Bedford’s deeper port on the mainland. They hoped to realize greater profits by developing an integrated whaling industry in what was then a small village on the Acushnet River. The Quakers built refineries, a candle factory, and import/export operations. Their banks and insurance companies supplied the capital to finance the long whaling voyages. In the 1850s, more whaleships sailed from New Bedford than from all of the world’s ports combined.

Hunting and butchering the whale, harvesting teeth and baleen, and rendering blubber into oil was grueling, dirty work. Whaling was especially dangerous for those who crewed the small rowboats that carried the “harpooneers” –– often Native Americans of the coastal tribes. Upon hearing the lookout’s cry, “Thar she blows!” the oarsmen began to chase the whale. Once the harpoon securely lodged in its target, the whale would often drag the boat on a perilous “Nantucket sleigh ride.” It could end in a watery grave for the crew when an enraged whale “stove” (rammed) the boat. If the crew prevailed to deal the final death blow, a single sperm whale could yield 100 barrels of oil — a fortune.

Whaling was lucrative for some. People of many backgrounds sought opportunities to share in the wealth as ships’ captains, mates, laborers, cooks, carpenters, coopers, sailmakers, and riggers. The city’s population surged as mariners from the Azores and Cape Verde, the West Indies, St. Helena, and the Pacific Islands signed on with ships that took on supplies and loaded off cargo at tiny island ports. Men who had sickened, deserted, or died at sea had to be replaced.

Before the Civil War, increasing numbers of African Americans fled enslavement in the South, via Underground Railroad routes, over ground and by sea. Some sought personal and economic freedom aboard the whaleships.

As New Bedford whaleships ventured into the Pacific and Arctic oceans, the average length of a voyage stretched to 30 months. Life aboard ship was not entirely without respite, though. “Gamming,” visiting other ships met by chance, offered rare chances to exchange information.

Some mariners expressed their longing for home and family in scenes carved into whale teeth. Wives and children, deprived of husbands and fathers, and of news, learned to manage shops, farms, and families ashore.

By the 1860s, petroleum began to replace whale oil. Whale populations dwindled. Still, into the 1900s, the Nye Company of New Bedford sold whale oil in small quantities to lubricate clocks, watches, and bicycles.

The harbor, which had attracted the whaleships that brought prosperity in the 1800s, continued to drive New Bedford’s economy. It allowed for the shipping of glass and textiles — products of new industries that replaced whaling — and made New Bedford a thriving commercial fishing port.

↑ back to top

COLLAGE: Thar She Blows!

QUOTE: "The mighty whales which swim in a sea of water, and have a sea of oil swimming in them." – Thomas Fuller, 1642


The oil within whales’ huge bodies was the first natural energy resource that men pursued globally. Before fossil fuels and electricity, whale oil lit the world. From 1830 to 1860, most American ships that hunted whales sailed from New Bedford, which replaced Nantucket as the center for the industry.

Ships’ logs preserved in New Bedford and elsewhere include records that help us understand where whales lived, bred, and fed and identify types of whales hunted and taken.

Many New Bedford whalemen sought the toothed blunt-nosed sperm whale, whose huge head contained spermaceti, a waxy, clean-burning substance. The sperm whale was fast and aggressive toward hunters. The slower, toothless right whale, also highly prized, was less risky to hunt. Its carcass floated, making harvesting its blubber and baleen easier. Whaleships often sighted but seldom hunted killer and finback whales.

IMAGE 1 of 5


A black-and-white image of a man standing on the deck of a ship. He stands with his hands on his hips, turned away from the camera. He has short hair and a short cropped beard. He wears a white collared shirt, the details of his pants are obscured by shadow. He watches the jaw of a sperm whale being lifted onto the deck of the ship with a crane. The jaw is long and narrow, almost as deep as the man and slightly longer than he is tall. It is lined with pointed teeth, and hangs from the hook of a crane, its base just coming up over the side of the ship. The ship's rigging and the ropes of the crane are behind the man, in the background.


Hoisting a sperm whale jaw.


New Bedford Whaling Museum.

IMAGE 2 of 5


A short bottle with a narrow neck and a black cap. It is filled with a white substance. The bottle is wrapped in a yellow label with brown print. The label itself is illegible.


Clock oil produced in New Bedford by the W.F. Nye Company.



IMAGE 3 of 5


A glass oil lamp. It has a square base and a beveled stem that supports a rounded oval oil reservoir, half full of yellow oil. At the top of the oil reservoir is a black apparatus that holds the tip of the wick, allowing the body of the wick to hang into the oil. 


Whale oil lamp made by New Bedford Glass Works.


New Bedford Whaling Museum.

IMAGE 4 of 5


A side-view illustration of a sperm whale. The body of the sperm whale is blocky, with a blunt front end, and a small flap-like jaw at the bottom. Just behind the jaw is the sperm whale's eye, and situated close to the midpoint of the body is a short blocky flipper. The whale's body, beginning just after the midpoint, tapers into a thick and muscular tail. The tail fins are configured horizontally.


Toothed whales.


Steven Noble.


Most whale species are toothed, with one blowhole. The sperm whale’s head is one-third its length, which can reach 60 feet. Its brain is the largest of any mammal’s on Earth.

IMAGE 5 of 5


A side-view illustration of a baleen whale. Its body is curved and slightly bulbous. The whale's curved lower jaw makes up almost two-thirds of its head and curves downward towards its hinge. The head and body are covered in irregular, lightened shapes. Four of these shapes line the lower jaw, descending in size from the tip of the whale's head as they move down the body. The whale's fin is attached low on the body, below the hinge of the jaw. The whale's body tapers gradually into a horizontally fined tail. 


Baleen whales




Through bristles of baleen (keratin) suspended from their gums, these toothless whales filter their food. The right and bowhead whales in this family have two blowholes. Baleen’s many uses included fans, corsets, and buggy whips.

↑ back to top

MAP: Whaling – A Global Industry

DESCRIPTION: A mostly monochromatic world map, in blues and white, centered on the United States. The oceans are filled with dark blue and green dots, representing areas where Bowhead and Sperm whales, respectively, were killed between 1780 and 1920. The green dots, representing Sperm Whales, are concentrated in equatorial waters, particularly along the equator itself, as well as off the east coast of the United States and in the central Atlantic ocean. The blue dots, representing Bowhead whales, favor more northern and southern extremes, concentrating along the southern coasts of Asia, Alaska, South America, New Zealand, and Australia.


Ships from New Bedford and other American ports took 34,765 whales—

23,301 Toothed (Spermaceti)

11,464 Baleen (Bowhead, right)

— at 24,848 locations from 1780 to 1920. Each dot shows where one or more whales were killed on one day.


* By the late 1700s, whalers had hunted out many of the right whales’ grounds in the North Atlantic. In the 1800s, whaling expanded to more distant waters. 

* New Bedford whaleships like the Nassau, which took many Bowheads on a voyage from 1851 to 1853, resupplied in San Francisco.

* Sperm whales mate in warm waters close to the Equator. They feed on squid, abundant in the rich seas west of Ecuador.

↑ back to top

COLLAGE: Call Me Ishmael

IMAGE 1 of 11: Wanderer

DESCRIPTION: An illustrated view of a three-masted ship from behind. Through a tangle of rigging, the ship's eight main sails are visible, furled under beams that hang perpendicular to the masts, as well as to the length of the ship. The ship's white trim and green paint are visible through the shadows. It sits in the water, tied to the dock in New Bedford Harbor. Other masts and rigging are visible in the background.

CAPTION: Wanderer, the last three-masted whaleship to sail from New Bedford

CREDIT: C.W. Ashley, Wanderer, oil on canvas, 1920 New Bedford Whaling Museum. 


IMAGE 2 of 11: Sperm whale

DESCRIPTION: A small illustration of a sperm whale rolling and thrashing in a white and foamy sea. The whale is upside-down, its head and tail out of the water.  A small rowboat full of men is rowing away from the whale. Behind the whale, only the front of another small boat is visible; the figure of a man appears to be falling out of it. In the distance, behind the tail, a third rowboat is approaching.

CAPTION: A crew, in three small boats, capture a sperm whale. One man is flung into the shark-infested South Sea as the whale rolls onto its side.

CREDIT: W.J. Huggins and E. Duncan, South Sea Fishery, print, 1834 New Bedford Whaling Museum. 

IMAGE 3 of 11: Whale teeth

DESCRIPTION: A yellowed whale's tooth. Round and pointed. There are two patterned bands etched around the tip of the tooth. A domestic scene is painted on the majority of the tooth. In the scene, a two-story house sits next to a tall pine tree on a country road. On either side of the house is a stone fence, and in the background is a variety of shrubbery. A welcoming path leads to the front door of the house, and smoke is coming out of its chimneys.

CAPTION: Sailors rubbed pigment into designs carved in whale teeth (scrimshaw).

CREDIT: Edward Burdett, Country Cottage Scrimshaw, 1825-33, New Bedford Whaling Museum. 

IMAGE 4 of 11: Silk fan

DESCRIPTION: A blue silk folding hand fan, monogrammed with the letters "M Y" in a gothic font. Its edge is embroidered with a lacy pattern in white, and at its base, the ivory-like baleen ribs of the fan are exposed.

CAPTION: The ribs of this silk fan are made from baleen. 

CREDIT: Fan, CA 1850. © Quogue Historical Society.

IMAGE 5 of 11: Harvesting baleen

DESCRIPTION: A black-and-white photo of two men standing in and beside the carcass of a whale. They wear leather work clothes. One of the men, standing inside the body of the whale, is facing away from the camera. He uses a long narrow tool to perform his work. The other man, standing in the foreground, just in front of the carcass, has a hand on his hip and is turned toward the camera as though he has just noticed the photographer.

CAPTION: Harvesting baleen in the Arctic.

CREDIT: Albumen Print, 1850s, New Bedford Whaling Museum. 

IMAGE 6 of 11:

DESCRIPTION: The weathered spine of a copy of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. The spine is white, with brown stains at the top and bottom edges. Under the title, and following the spine of the book, is a simple illustration of a harpoon, its point directed upward toward the title of the book, and at the end of its handle is the author's name: Melville.

CAPTION: Ishmael narrates Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851); spine of modern edition, with two-flued harpoon.

CREDIT: © Arion and University of California Press, 1979. 

IMAGE 7 of 11: Harpoon

DESCRIPTION: A double-barbed harpoon; its two barbs both extending from the same side. It is brown and rusted, with a long and narrow handle that widens at the very end.

CAPTION: African American blacksmith Lewis Temple of New Bedford designed this toggle harpoon.


IMAGE 8 of 11: Whaleship crew

DESCRIPTION: A black-and-white photograph of 15 men sitting and standing in what appears to be the bow of a whaleship. Their expressions are mostly blurred, but the faces that are visible are either slightly grim or expressionless. Most of the men sit or stand with their hands in their pockets or clasped in front of them. They wear warm, working-class clothing, with jackets and hats. Various cables are stretched up behind them and tower over them.

CAPTION: Crew of Charles W. Morgan, the last American whaleship afloat.

CREDIT: P.B. Gifford, photograph, 1917 New Bedford Whaling Museum. 

IMAGE 9 of 11: Frederick Douglass 

DESCRIPTION: A black-and-white photo portrait of Frederick Douglass. He stands angled slightly to the left of the camera, though looking to the extreme right of it. His expression is stern; his sharp brow furrowed. He looks as though he is lost deep in thought. He has a slight goatee, and his dark, curly hair is side-parted, puffing out slightly asymmetrically. He wears a light bow-tie around the collar of his white shirt and a printed vest under his dark jacket.

CAPTION: Frederick Douglass found his freedom and his voice in New Bedford. Many African Americans heeded his call to enlist in the Union Army. 

CREDIT: S.J. Miller, daguerreotype, 1847-52, The Art Institute of Chicago. 

IMAGE 10 of 11: African American soldiers

DESCRIPTION: A painting of a large group of men, wearing the Union Army uniform of a dark blue jacket and light blue trousers, climbing over a wall. One man standing atop the wall is waving a United States flag above his head.

CAPTION: The African American Co. C, Massachusetts 54th Regiment, led the Union attack on Fort Wagner, SC, in 1863.

CREDIT: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

IMAGE 11 of 11: Medal of Honor

DESCRIPTION: A photograph of a Medal of Honor. It consists of a brass clip, from which hangs a red ribbon with two blue stripes down the middle. From this ribbon hangs a five-pointed star with the central point facing downward. An eagle is perched atop the star, with its wings outspread. In the center of the star are two figures. One stands upright and holds a shield, while the other holds a submissive posture and turns away.

CAPTION: Sgt. William H. Carney of New Bedford lifted the U.S. flag when enemy fire felled the flagbearer. He received this Medal of Honor 37 years later.

CREDIT: Carl J. Cruz Collection.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Back Side of Brochure

The back of the brochure primarily is a map of Historic New Bedford, adorned with images of whales, ships and different buildings in the area. The text explains the thriving whaling industry in New Bedford and offers information about navigating New Bedford.

↑ back to top

MAP: Waterfront Visitor Center

DESCRIPTION: A map of New Bedford Harbor and the surrounding city, with the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park outlined in green, highlighting features of the park.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Whales Survive and Sing

Steam-powered whaleships eventually developed into floating factories. By 1925, they had found most sperm, right, bowhead, humpback, and gray whales’ feeding and mating grounds.

Sperm whales inhabit deep, remote seas, but right whales live in shallow coastal areas. Believed to have been hunted to extinction in European waters, right whales are now among the most endangered and closely watched species on Earth. Several hundred survive in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

But human-generated noise disrupts sounds that whales use to communicate. Whales are often struck by ships and entangled in fishing nets. As people continue to learn about whales, science and industry have come together to help protect whales, making changes in shipping lanes and observing new, whale-friendly regulations.

↑ back to top

IMAGE: Bowhead Whale


A bowhead whale surfacing amid chunks of ice in gray-green water. While its smooth skin is predominantly black, there is a patch of white on its chin. The long curvature of its mouth is clearly visible, though the rest of its body is underwater.

CAPTION: Bowheads are baleen whales, with habits similar to those of right whales, but they live only in Arctic waters.

CREDIT: © Carl Buell.

↑ back to top

IMAGE: The Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey

DESCRIPTION: An image of a sailing ship as seen from behind, sailing on a dark blue ocean. The ship has two masts, each with a large gaff-rigged sail and a long boom. These sails, along with her two headsails, are fully unfurled.

CAPTION: The Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey first sailed the Grand Banks as a fishing vessel and later took explorers to the Arctic. The Republic of Cape Verde, from which thousands emigrated to the United States, gave the schooner to the American people. The last sailing ship to carry immigrants across the Atlantic, it is berthed in New Bedford, where it is open seasonally to visitors.

CREDIT: © Arthur A. Moniz.

↑ back to top

IMAGES and TEXT: Navigating Historic New Bedford

IMAGE 1 of 6: National Park Visitor Center

DESCRIPTION: A square building with a triangular roof. The building has a black door in the middle and two windows the same size as the door to either side, at its entrance. A set of stairs leads up to the door. To either side of the stairs is a white stone wall with a column pattern.

CAPTION: National Park Visitor Center, 33 William Street. Begin your visit here. Browse the exhibits and bookstore and watch a short film to learn about the people whose labor made New Bedford the “City That Lit the World.” Free.

IMAGE 2 of 6: New Bedford Whaling Museum

DESCRIPTION: A rectangular brick building, with gold trim, separated into three sections by two large white columns. There is a doorway in the center, surrounded by concrete ornamentation, surrounded by five windows. There appears to be a ramp leading up to the doorway on the left, and a short stairway on the right.

CAPTION: New Bedford Whaling Museum, 18 Johnny Cake Hill.  The American whaling and maritime history collections are the world’s largest, with five whale skeletons, a replica of the whaling bark Lagoda, hundreds of examples of scrimshaw, photographs, paintings, and documents. Fee.

IMAGE 3 of 6: Seamen's Bethel

DESCRIPTION: A square building with tall windows, high above the central doorway. It has a small tower in its center, from which the roof slopes off on either side. A tall, leafless tree stands beside it. Shrubbery surrounds its base.

CAPTION: Seamen's Bethel, 15 Johnny Cake Hill. The bethel has continuously served mariners as a place for reflection since 1832. It also once housed a school for seamen, letter exchange, seamen’s register, library, and a reading room. The walls are lined with marble cenotaphs, memorials to those lost at sea. 

IMAGE 4 of 6: U.S. Custom House

DESCRIPTION: A square building with a triangular peak, from which flies a United States flag. A staircase nearly the width of the building itself leads up to its main entrance. The facade of the building has four large white columns. The face of the building is set with nine large windows. Five along the second floor, and four along the bottom floor, with the main entrance instead of a central window. 

CAPTION: U.S. Custom House, 37 North 2nd Street. Here seafarers from around the world register papers and pay duties and tariffs. The Custom House was built of granite in 1836, in the Greek Revival style seen in many of New Bedford’s historic buildings. The portico is supported by four Ionic columns.

IMAGE 5 of 6: Nathan and Polly Johnson House

DESCRIPTION: A square three-story house, with a peaked roof. The house has a brick foundation, above which it is painted white with black trim. A stairway leads up to the front door on the right side of the building. There is another smaller entrance set into the brickwork. The windows of the house have black storm shutters.

CAPTION: Nathan and Polly Johnson House, 21 7th Street. The free African American owners ran several successful businesses in New Bedford. Here, the Johnsons provided shelter to abolitionist Frederick Douglass and his wife after he escaped from slavery in 1838. 

IMAGE 6 of 6: Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum

DESCRIPTION: A low-slung two-story house with a peaked roof. Painted a creamy yellow with white trim, the house has a central entrance with a second-story balcony in white that wraps around from the right side from the front face of the house. Two columns on either side of the front door support the balcony. The house has three large bay windows with black storm shutters on the second floor, and two bay windows, one on either side of the front door, on the ground floor. There is an arched window the shape of a slice of lemon above the central window. A small chimney pokes out of the roof on the rightmost side of the structure. 

CAPTION: Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, 396 County Street. This Greek Revival-style mansion, built in 1834, was home to three prominent New Bedford families. Fee. The gardens (free) include a historic wooden pergola, a formal boxwood parterre garden, and an orchard. 

CREDIT: All building illustrations © Arthur A. Moniz. 


Within the National Historical Park boundaries, the streets are paved in Belgian blocks. You’ll need sturdy shoes. Most of the sites described below are inside or close to the park boundaries. Some partner sites are open year-round, others seasonally. Most are managed by nonprofits and some charge an admission fee.

To visit the Waterfront Visitor Center (Wharfinger Building) and the Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey, use the pedestrian crosswalk at Route 18.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Partners

Community bonds are strengthened by the park and its partners: The City of New Bedford, New Bedford Whaling Museum, Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey, Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum, New Bedford Port Society, New Bedford Historical Society, and Waterfront Historic Area League.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Iñupiat Heritage Center, an Affiliated Site

Iñupiat Heritage Center

PO Box 69

Barrow, AK 99723


The Iñupiat, natives of Alaska’s north coast, seasonally hunt the Bowhead. Its raw skin with blubber (muktuk), their staple food, has spiritual associations for the culture. Each year the Iñupiat are allotted a limited number of bowheads, which they hunt with traditional methods.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Accessibility

We strive to make our facilities and services accessible to all. For more information, go to a visitor center, ask a ranger, call, or check our website.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: More Information

New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is one of over 400 parks in the Na­tional Park System. To learn more about national parks and National Park Service programs visit


New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

33 William St.

New Bedford, MA 02740




OTHER INFORMATION: National Park Foundation. Join the park community, For firearms and other regulations check the park website. Emergencies call 911

↑ back to top

By using this site, you agree to follow our Terms, Conditions, License, Privacy Policy, and Research Protocols.