Whale oil

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Whale oil lamp
MFA# 1978.731


A yellowish oil obtained from the blubber of whales (order Cetacea, such as Balaena mysticetus). Whale oil was extracted from the blubber with steam. It is composed of the glycerides of fatty acids: oleic (35.2%), stearic (2.8%), palmitic (15.6%), myristic (9.3%), palmitoleic (14.4%) and others. At one time whale oil was used for manufacturing soaps, candles, and as a lubricant for textile spinning machines. The smoky, odorous oil was considered an inferior source of lighting fuel. It has since been superseded by synthetic oils.

Sperm whale

Synonyms and Related Terms

sperm oil; sod oil

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Saponification no. = 180-197
  • Iodine no. = 105-135
  • Density = 0.920-0.927 g/ml
  • Refractive Index = 1.460

Resources and Citations

  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 867
  • CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, Robert Weast (ed.), CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, v. 61, 1980 Comment: density=0.892, refl index=1.460, iodine value=120, saponification value=195, lauric acid=0.2%, myristic acid=9.3%, palmitic acid=15.6%, stearic acid=2.8%, palmitoleic acid-14.4%, oleic acid=35.2%
  • Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia, Douglas M. Considine (ed.), Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1976
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998

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