Nantucket Whaling Museum

Imagine Nantucket as the bustling whaling port it once was, centered on the mighty sperm whale. Whale oil was vital in illuminating homes and businesses and the sperm whale was prized for its spermaceti, a substance that burns with an exceedingly bright flame and is also used in candle-making.

Think of the cultural influences associated with Nantucket such as Moby Dick by Herman Melville, the once utilitarian and now treasured Nantucket baskets, scrimshaw, sailors’ valentines and all the beautiful historic crafts made by whalers during their multi-year voyages.

Experience it firsthand at the Nantucket Whaling Museum housed in a restored 1847 candle factory dedicated to the history of whaling. Run by the Nantucket Historical Association, the museum displays a large collection of whaling artifacts and memorabilia, including the original two-story beam press which extracted oil from the whale’s spermaceti to make candles as well as longboats, harpoons and scrimshaw. See the entire harbor, much of the town and spectacular views of the island from the museum’s rooftop observation deck overlooking Nantucket harbor.

The centerpiece of the museum is the skeleton of a 46-foot bull Sperm whale suspended from the ceiling. The skeleton display simulates the whale swimming and twisting in the water, flicking its tail. Its sheer size, massive skull and menacing ivory teeth demonstrate the power of these creatures. It also allows visitors to imagine the emotions of eighteenth and nineteenth century Nantucket whalers as they sought the mighty sperm whale.

This forty-six foot bull whale died in January 1998 after floundering for two days in the surf off the eastern end of the island. Scores of islanders flocked to ‘Sconset to catch sight of the creature. Photographs from that day reveal hundreds of people lined up beyond the cordoned-off whale, as fascinated as early whalers were by the sheer size and drama that unfolded.

Don’t miss this historic site on your visit.