September 1871 brought disaster to the already declining American whaling industry. A fleet of 33 whaleships, including 22 from the Port of New Bedford, became trapped in the Arctic ice off the northern coast of Alaska.

Several whaling industry publications report forty whaleships searching for Bowhead whales passed north through the Bering Strait in June 1871.

Peter Nichols wrote in the 2010 book Oil & Ice (2nd ed.), "The 1868-1870 Arctic Whaling seasons had been very profitable, with good whaling and excellent weather starting in March and extending into September."

But 1871 was another story entirely.

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Nichols wrote that spring and summer "had been dominated by northeasterly winds that pushed ice floes towards the Alaskan coast." He wrote the New Bedford whaler Oriole struck an ice floe before the fleet crossed the Bering Strait.

Among the New Bedford-based whaleships destroyed or abandoned and lost during September 1871 were Awashonks captained by Ariel Norton, Concordia with Captain Robert Jones, Contest captained by Leander C. Owen, Elizabeth Swift with Captain George W. Bliven, Emily Morgan captained by Benjamin Dexter, Eugenia under Captain Daniel B. Nye, and Fanny with Captain Lewis W. Williams.

New Bedford Lost 22 Whaleships In The Whaling Disaster Of 1871
Lagoda / NBWM

Other New Bedford vessels suffering a similar fate that September: Gay Head under Captain William H. Kelley, George with Captain Abraham Osborn, George Howland captained by James H. Knowles, Henry Taber with Captain Timothy C. Packard, John Wells with Captain Aaron Dean, Massachusetts captained by West Mitchell, and Minerva with Hezekiah Allen as captain.

Also, Navy with Captain George F. Bouldry, Oliver Crocker captained by James H. Fisher, Reindeer with B.F. Loveland, Roman with Captain Jared Jernegan, Seneca captained by Edmund Kelley, and Thomas Dickason under Captain Valentine Lewis.

The total loss was estimated to be over $1,600,000 ($40.69 million in 2023 dollars).

The New Bedford-based Lagoda was among seven whaleships to escape the grip of the Alaskan ice. A half-scale model of the Lagoda is located at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The model was commissioned in 1916.

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