SACRAMENTO, CA - With the Golden State phasing out 100-watt incandescent light bulbs beginning Jan. 1, retailers are gearing up to sell lamps powered by whale oil. Once popular as an illuminant and a rust protector for iron bridges and dental implements, whale oil use diminished after the mid-19 century discovery of kerosene. But with incandescents being replaced by CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights) and CFL's having numerous drawbacks—mercury-filled, costly, odd twisty shapes—whale oil has been staging a quiet green fuel comeback.
In Cambria at Whales and Walking Sticks, owner Kadie Freeman sold another lamp and a half-barrel of fuel. "Baleen oil lasts the longest,"said Freeman, "though pilot whale oil will do in a pinch." Once a staunch member of Greenpeace, Freeman realized that drastic action was necessary to combat global warming. "All life on earth is toast if we don't immediately reduce our energy consumption," she said, eyes alight with conviction. "Humans are giving up practical, easy-to-replace incandescent bulbs. The least whales can do is part with a little oil."
At New Lamps for Old in San Francisco, manager Billy Bitkin stated many customers liked the smell of whale oil. "It's very sea-like, very timbers-creaking-sort-of-thing." Bitkin can't wait until spring when eco tours embark on gray whale hunts. "Thar she blows," he joked. Bitkin and others sail out near the Farallon Islands, wait for gray whales to surface, then blast them with shotguns loaded with deer slugs. The carcasses are towed back to a cove near Sausalito where passengers don rubber aprons and help strip and boil down the whale for its oil. "When we're done, we each get a little keg of whale oil to take home," added Bitkin. "It's like ashes-at-a-funereal-only-practical-sort-of-thing."(Image: MSNBC.com)