Whales Lost and Found: Rescuing a history of biodiversity loss in early modern Brazil

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Worldwide, whales have been hunted to the brink of extinction. In Brazil, whaling was a royal monopoly between 1614 and 1801. Within the dynamics of the Portuguese Empire, it was a stimulus that promoted wealth and the circulation of knowledge, practices, and products. The development of whaling stations in four coastal sites fostered the construction of littoral spaces, shaped the ways people perceived and used the ocean and marine animals, and left an impact on whale populations in a truly entangled history between humans and the non-human world. In this article, we aim to identify the main target species and number of animals caught through the analysis of historical sources from the 17th and 18th centuries. Southern Right Whale and Humpback Whale were the main target species, to a different extent, between the north-eastern and south-eastern whaling sites, but occasionally hunted simultaneously. We accounted for a total of 9080 animals captured in 41 years, between 1627 and 1801, and addressed hunting loss and calf-securing practices. In discussing biodiversity loss in the era of the Anthropocene, we expect to contribute to a better understanding of early impacts on marine life in the 1600-1800 period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-130
Number of pages25
JournalExchanges: The Interdisciplinary Research Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023


  • Whaling
  • Southern right whale
  • Humpback whale
  • Portuguese empire
  • Marine environmental history


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