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A Nantucket sleighride was a term used by Nantucket whalers to describe what occurs immediately following the harpooning of a whale. The whale, distressed by the harpoon, attempts to flee and thus drags the whalers' longboat along with it. The speed of the "sleigh ride" would vary depending on the species of the whale, with certain species (e.g. humpbacks) giving faster rides. The sperm whale was the whale that caused the longest drag events, reaching speeds of 23 mph (37 km/h). The length of the drag for the sailors would last as long as the whale could swim before it became exhausted. Fin whales and sei whales were the most dangerous species, as they would dive scores of fathoms deep taking the longboat and its occupants beneath the surface if possible. Once the whale had exhausted its energy, the sailors (if still alive) would kill it and harvest its oil.
The discovery of petroleum and natural gas in Pennsylvania in the mid-1800s began a slow end to the whale hunting by American whalers. Other nations followed as either they discovered petroleum reserves of their own, or the increase in the trade of natural gas and oil rendered whale hunting less worthy of the dangers inherent in its pursuit. Japan still persists in the practice to this day; Norway finally closed its last rendering station at Grytviken (South Georgia Island) about 1965.
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