A whaling ship surrounded by several dead whales lying in the sea at Spitsbergen, Norway; ca. 1905.
Prior to the invention of the modern petrochemical industry, whale oil was prized for illumination since it burned very cleanly in oil lamps. It was also used for lots of specialized lubrication applications such as clockworks and transmission gearboxes. In the US, whale oil was used until the signing of the 1972 Endangered Species Act.