A Novel Approach to Practical Applications of Cetacea Oil

Call me Ishmael! Remember the good ole days of whaling? Don’t you just wish you could harpoon a whale? Unfortunately, whales became endangered and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. However, if we take a page out of history, whales are one of the first uses of renewable energy. The United States breeds several farm animals for food, so let’s transpose this idea to energy! I was able to perform some average calculations on the energy contents of whales (these are back of the hand calculations).

At first, I was going to use the 1881 Supreme Court Case, Ghen v. Rich(1), which defined that killing a fin whale creates roughly 20 barrels of oil. However, this only accounted for the whalenol, and did include the energy potential of the blubber.

Instead, I focused on blubber. Below is a chart of various energy equivalents. Surprisingly, blubber is of the same magnitude.

Blubber Gasoline Natural Gas Coal
Equivalent Energy , btu/lb 17420 20421 20000 14000

Whales typically consist of 50% blubber and an average fin whale weighs 110,000 lbs (4). This comes out to about 893 MMBTU/whale. This is only accounting for the blubber; the other half of the whale would have a small amount of energy associated with it that’s not included. So this made me curious, exactly how many whales would be needed to replace other forms of energy in the United States for 1 year based on 2011 data?

Gasoline  Natural Gas         Coal             Renewable     Nuclear
Quads                         35                25                    20                       9                   8
# whales           3.92E+07     2.80E+07      2.24E+07        1.01E+07      8.96E+06

To put these numbers in a different context, I used the below analogies, using an 85% efficiency conversion of blubber to energy.

One Wind Turbine: 2.05E+10 average Btu/year
27 # of whales to replace one wind turbine in one year

Ethanol:   3.04E+07 btu/acre
35 # of whales to replace an acre of corn

Solar Panels:    4.36E+07 Btu/(day*acre)
24 # of whales to replace an acre of solar panels/day

These numbers seem staggering, but imagine with genetic engineering, a diet full of fiber, and steroids, how much of an increase in blubber we could receive per whale.

Now, I know what you’re wondering, where will we put these whales? Simple, we take existing seas and block off with large nets. Even better, the Black Sea(5) would not need any modifications. For the US, the Great Salt Lake is surrounded by power plants, cutting down on energy transportation costs.


This would be a large investment, but does have some environmental benefits. Fin whales primarily consist of plankton. While feeding the whales, the plankton will help with CO2 dissolved in world’s water supplies. Even better, to pay for whale expenses, tourism would be readily available to handle. How much would pay for a whale watching or a harpooning trip? Additionally, as a renewable source, it would qualifies for renewable energy tax credits.

I understand that whales will not be able to fully replace current energy sources, but it would be a viable renewable source. The Black Sea (5) is currently 4,364,000 km^2. With an average of 6 whales/km^2 and filling the sea to capacity, this could reduce the US’s annual gasoline consumption from 35 quads to 16 quads. Additionally, if whales are used for energy, perhaps this will spur consumers to reduce their consumption?

**Disclaimer: The definition of irony: the use of words conveying a meaning opposite of its literal meaning.**

1. http://joshblackman.com/blog/2013/01/17/how-much-oil-does-a-fin-whale-yield/
2. http://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/energy-content-d_868.html
3. http://jcs.biologists.org/content/s3-90/9/13.full.pdf
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fin_whale
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_sea



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2 responses to “A Novel Approach to Practical Applications of Cetacea Oil

  1. kevincwilkinson

    This is extremely interesting. I think using animals is a strange idea that could be a viable solution. But, i think there would be a lot of push back from animal rights activists. I really do appreciate the back of the hand calculations that you have done and actually I think that you are on to something with the whale blubber. An Icelandic whaling fleet owner is powering his ships with a fuel mix of 80% diesel and 20% whale oil. The source of the oil is from the blubber of the whale that has been heated up. I’m somewhat concerned about the overall cost of the energy in the sense that the whales will require a constant amount of food and care. I am not familiar with the Black Sea but i’m pretty sure that they do not contain the vegetation that is needed to foster growth from the primary food source of the whales. Again, I appreciate this article and I think it is cool concept.

    [1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2013/feb/11/whale-oil-fuel-ships

  2. Lets not forget the Caspian and Japan’s inland sea! Fertilizing the ocean for all these whales might be nontrivial, but iron is plentiful and the effluent from whale processing plants can be returned to the water. Whales are back! At least they won’t be endangered?

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