Baleen Plate (date unknown)
whale baleen, 109.2 x 43.2 cm
KINCM:2005.2493, Hull Maritime Museum, Hull

Although whalers often referred to baleen, rather confusingly, as ‘whalebone’, baleen is, in fact, a keratinous substance (like finger nails) which hangs from the roof of the mouths of whales in strips, and is used to strain out krill from sea water. Flexible and malleable, baleen was employed for a wide variety of utilitarian objects for human use, such as brushes and the stuffing of furniture. In many ways, it was the plastic of its day.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum