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There’s more to Vancouver Maritime Museum’s exhibit than ‘whale bone porn’

“A Whaler’s Hope of the First Night Ashore” is etched across a sperm whale tooth. © Vancouver Maritime Museum

“A Whaler’s Hope of the First Night Ashore” is etched across a sperm whale tooth. © Vancouver Maritime Museum

The Vancouver Maritime Museum’s (VMM) current exhibit, Tattoos & Scrimshaw: The Art of the Sailor, has dozens and dozens of interesting art pieces. But it is one small display, containing nine erotic engravings made on the teeth of sperm whales, that has been garnering attention lately.

Scrimshaw, as these etchings are called, were common in the 19th-century. They are carvings made by whalers on whale tooth or bone, using ship-made hand tools and tobacco juice for ink.In the 19th century, the two main themes depicted in scrimshaw were nautical images and women, according to Patricia Owen, curator at the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

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