Ghen v. Rich

8 F. 159 (D. Mass. 1881)



A custom among whalemen in the Arctic seas, that the iron holds the whale, is reasonable and valid to bestow title upon the party who first harpoons a whale. The usage for the first iron, whether attached to the boat or not, to hold the whale, is fully established. 


A  fisherman shot a fin-back whale with a bomb-lance identifiable as belonging to him, which caused it to sink to the bottom of the ocean. A local custom existed in the community that when a whale resurfaced, the fisherman would be notified and the finder would be paid a small salvage fee for his services. In this case, the whale was found on the beach by a third party, who sold it to respondent. The fisherman sued respondent for conversion of the whale.


Can local custom be valid basis to claim title?




Custom which embraced an entire business, and had been concurred in for a long time by everyone engaged in the trade can establish lawful ownership.

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