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harpoon(härpo͞on`), weapon used for spearing whales and large fish. The early type was a flat triangular piece of metal with barbed edges and a socket for attaching a wooden handle, to the end of which a long rope was fastened. The modern weapon usually has only one barb or point, with a pivoted crosspiece to prevent its withdrawal. Harpoons are used to capture whales, which are then commonly killed by driving a lance into the vital parts. Harpoons may be thrown by hand or fired from guns. These guns are 4 to 5 ft (1.2 m–1.5 m) long, weigh about 75 lb (34 kg), and discharge a harpoon weighing about 100 lb (45.4 kg). Svend Foyn, a Norwegian, invented (c.1856) a harpoon with an explosive-filled tip that kills the whale. A later invention is a harpoon propelled by air pressure with a valve that opens as it strikes, thus admitting air to hasten the whale's death and keep it afloat.
a weapon used for hunting large marine animals (whales, walruses, and seals). Primitive, hand harpoons have been used since the end of the Paleolithic period. They consist of a shaft, a bone head, and a tip made of bone, stone, or metal, which is connected to the shaft with a strap. When an animal is hit, the tip separates from the shaft and remains in the animal’s body. The strap unwinds, and the floating shaft shows the hunter the direction of the animal.
Modern harpoons are metal arrows, consisting of a rod and a head with four opening claws. Screwed onto the head is a grenade, which explodes in the animal’s body. A harpoon is 1,530 mm long, and its weight, including the grenade, powder, and detonating fuze, is about 70 kg. When it is shot out of a harpoon gun, the harpoon carries a line with it, which is part of a cable of the whaling ship.
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