Whale farming approached economic viability as oil prices skyrocketed, but it wasn’t until massive krill blooms, acre upon acre of biomass, clogged waterways, that the leviathans could be profitably rendered for fuel again. A new breed of tanker, floating factories, part nursery, part oil rig, part research vessel, wind-driven, road the waves.
Those remarkable ships, and the roughneck scientists who manned them, grew and managed herd populations using advanced fertilization techniques and daring whale-herding trickery that made a terrestrial cowboy’s bareback riding stunts seem like guppy jumping. Damn near permanently at sea, they moved liked Melville except the beasts’ staggering numbers made long lookouts obsolete. Anytime they wanted to tap a sperm whale for another ton they could, the only challenge filling holds as close to port as possible.
The severe resource scarcity that lead to whale oil’s resurgence as a power source meant diabolical competition, herders fought herders, each fought poachers, all of whom were subject to the treachery of pirates, Ambergrisians the most nefarious. Rogue waddies swiping a fish or two found themselves trapped in the middle, the Scylla of major oil harvesters on one side, and the Charybdis of the maniacal piratical Ambergrits on the other. For some the temptation was too great, a mid-sized bowhead was a floating fortune what with oil approaching a grand a barrel.
Technology worked against the small-fry in more ways than one. GPS chips embedded in the flesh of each branded beast meant back at base Cetaceans formed schools of electric lights on massive screens displaying for the energy titans exactly where their oil swam at any moment.
Low-tech countering tactics were deployed by the Ambergrits, coordinating their dodgy network of sailors and slicers who could move in and take a healthy chunk out of a herd before even the fastest crew could come to the rescue. By quickly skinning and rendering the first blubber layer they could filter out the chips and reattach them to other whales in the pod, leaving their thieving trail untraceable.
As breeding methods improved whales could be tagged at birth, devices woven into growing bone made the skeleton itself the identifier, soon to be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of dollars of precious oil. The game went on. The more paranoid deployed dirigibles, fleets of airships to criss-cross migration routes as the jetstreams intersected them, the preordained paths of air and water ridden by man and whale, ship and balloon. Skirmishes erupted into full-blown battles that often left crews of airmen and seamen in the deep.
The landlocked were sadly beholden to this brave assortment of energy mavericks. Every inch of arable land was needed for food production, bio-fuels were a bust and hydrogen-based technology was still years away from fruition. Mobility had long-ago become a luxury of the rich, automobiles albatrosses to the poor who could only afford to live in them, rusting hulks off silent highways. There was a desperate need for heating oil, and as power outages went from intermittent, to frequent, to forever, whale oil was in high demand for its illuminating properties once again. Children grew up in crumbling homes wondering aloud what outlets were, funny slender eyes stared powerless, their utility gone.
Walking the tightrope, cold and starvation below a thin thread of tenacity, mankind moved on, surviving off land and sea as it had for millennia.