United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts - 8 F. 159
The case concerns a dispute over the ownership of a whale that was killed with a bomb-lance in Massachusetts bay. The plaintiff claims ownership based on the local custom that the person who kills and takes possession of a whale owns it. The defendant, who purchased the whale from a third party who found it stranded on a beach, argues that this custom is invalid. The validity of the custom that whoever finds a whale adrift in the ocean automatically owns it is doubtful. The case raises questions about the rights of the finder and the owner of a stranded whale. The court has established that ownership of a whale is only established once someone takes firm possession of it. However, a custom among whalemen in the Arctic seas, where the first iron to strike a whale holds it, has been deemed reasonable and valid. Judge Sprague confirmed that a custom that encompasses an entire business and has been followed by everyone engaged in the trade for a long time should not be set aside by local usages of a particular port or the general maritime law.
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