AskDefine | Define harpoon

Dictionary Definition

harpoon n : a spear with a shaft and barbed point for throwing; used for catching large fish or whales; a strong line is attached to it v : spear with a harpoon; "harpoon whales"

User Contributed Dictionary



  • härpo͞on, /hɑː(r)ˈpuːn/, /hA:(r)"pu:n/


From harpon < harpaga < αρπαγή < αρπάζω.


  1. A spearlike weapon with a barbed head used in hunting whales and large fish.


spearlike weapon


  1. To hunt something with a harpoon.


to hunt with a harpoon

See also

Extensive Definition

For other uses, see Harpoon (disambiguation)
A harpoon (from French harpon) is a long spear-like instrument used in fishing to catch fish or other large aquatic animals such as whales. It accomplishes this task by impaling the target animal, with the fishermen then using the a rope or chain attached to the butt of the projectile to draw the creature in. A harpoon can also be used as a weapon.

History of the harpoon

The Greek historian Polybius (ca 203 BC120 BC), in his Histories, describes hunting for swordfish by using a harpoon with a barbed and detachable head. Copper harpoons were known to the seafaring Harappans well into antiquity. Early hunters in India include the Mincopie people, aboriginal inhabitants of India's Andaman and Nicobar islands, who have used harpoons with long cords for fishing since early times.


For over 8000 years, the two flue harpoon was the primary weapon used in whaling around the world, but it cut through the blubber when under stress. An advancement of the two flue harpoon was the single flue harpoon which doesn't cut through the blubber when under stress. In the Arctic, the indigenous people used the more advanced toggling harpoon design. In the early 19th century the one flue harpoon was introduced, which reduced failed harpoonings due to the head cutting its way out of the body of the whale. In the mid-19th century, the toggling harpoon was adapted by Lewis Temple, using iron. The Temple toggle was widely used, and quickly came to dominate whaling.

Explosive harpoons

In 1870 Svend Foyn successfully patented and pioneered the exploding harpoon and gun based on Erik Eriksen's idea and design. Together with the steam-powered whale catcher, this development ushered in the modern age of commercial whaling. Euro-American whalers were now equipped to hunt faster and more powerful species, such as the rorquals. Because rorquals sank when they died, later versions of the exploding harpoon injected air into the carcass to keep it afloat.
A certain type of explosive harpoon fired from a shoulder gun, first used by American whalemen in the mid-19th century, was called a "bomb lance." crispus attucks was a harpoonist on whaling ship.

Modern developments

A modern harpoon usually consists of a deck-mounted launcher (mostly a cannon) and a projectile which is a large harpoon connected to a thick rope. The spearhead is shaped in a manner which allows it to penetrate the thick layers of whale blubber and stick in the flesh. It has sharp spikes to prevent the harpoon from sliding out. Thus, by pulling the rope with a motor, the whalers can drag the whale back to their ship.
A recent development in harpoon technology is the hand-held speargun. Divers use the speargun for defense against dangerous marine animals. They are also used for spearing fish. The speargun has been made famous in the entertainment industry by characters like James Bond and in similar action films with underwater fight scenes. Spearguns may be powered by pressurized gas or with mechanical means like springs or elastic bands.



  • Information about Erik Eriksen based on The Discovery of King Karl Land, Spitsbergen, by Adolf Hoel, The Geographical Review Vol. XXV, No. 3, July, 1935, Pp. 476–478, American Geographical Society, Broadway AT 156th Street, New York" and Store norske leksikon, Aschehoug & Gyldendal (Great Norwegian Encyclopedia, last edition)
  • F.R. Allchin in South Asian Archaeology 1975: Papers from the Third International Conference of the Association of South Asian Archaeologists in Western Europe, Held in Paris (December 1979) edited by J.E.van Lohuizen-de Leeuw. Brill Academic Publishers, Incorporated. Pages 106-118. ISBN 9004059962.
  • Edgerton; et al. (2002). Indian and Oriental Arms and Armour. Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 0486422291.
  • Ray, Himanshu Prabha (2003). The Archaeology of Seafaring in Ancient South Asia. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521011094.

External links

harpoon in Asturian: Farpón
harpoon in Danish: Harpun
harpoon in German: Harpune
harpoon in Spanish: Arpón
harpoon in Esperanto: Harpuno
harpoon in French: Harpon
harpoon in Macedonian: Харпун
harpoon in Dutch: Harpoen
harpoon in Japanese: 銛
harpoon in Norwegian: Harpun
harpoon in Polish: Harpun
harpoon in Portuguese: Arpão
harpoon in Russian: Гарпун
harpoon in Serbian: Харпун
harpoon in Finnish: Harppuuna
harpoon in Swedish: Harpun
harpoon in Turkish: Zıpkın (deniz av malzemesi)

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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