Q. about rodent control on sailing ships

Old-time sailing ships were overrun with rats. A ship’s cat or two were often kept to try to keep the rodents down; but rats and mice presumably had numerous places they could hide where a cat couldn’t follow. Were ferrets ever tried at sea to keep the rat population down?

Yes, they were.


From this site: http://open-site.org/Recreation/Pets/Ferrets/History/

Another cite:
“Bitten: True Medical Stories of Bites and Stings” By Pamela Nagami

(first book cite I could find on a google search)

So why were they presumably not very effective?

Numbers, perhaps?

Short rations helped:

“…they had been eating rats this last month and more, rats caught in the bowels of the ship by the captain of the hold and laid out, neatly skinned, opened and cleaned, like tiny sheep, in the orlop, for sale at a price that rose week by week, to reach its present shocking rate of fivepence a knob.”

Patrick O’Brian, ‘H.M.S. Surprise’ (1973)

I’ve always wondered how so many ships became contaminated by vast rat populations: One would think rat guards would prevent direct ingress? Or did rats generally stow away in cargo being loaded, undetected?

All it took was for a few (or even one male-female pair) to get aboard and then they would have a limitless food supply due to all the stores being kept in cloth sacks and wooden barrels and crates.

Are rats still an issue on ships? I mean, I’m sure they would be without taking measures but with modern rat guards and poisons and food storage, etc should I expect to find rats on a modern cruise ship or navy vessel or freighter? I realize that the standards for a cargo container laden freighter are likely different than those for the S.S. Tropical Cruise.

Tried to Google but just got a bajillion hits for that debunked “Ghost ship with a million rats” story. Then tried “-ghost” and got a bunch of “Like rats fleeing a sinking ship…” stories about whatever company the author wanted to schadenfreude about.

You can see an anti-rat guard on the bow lines in this photo I took in the 1980s.

Actually 50% less rats required then your absolute minimum, all it took is 1 rat, a female that recently had sex.

I’ve noticed that several cruise ships I’ve been on or been near at piers do not use rat guards on their bow lines, or only on some despite every line appearing to enter the hull. Some have rat guards but they’re installed with the aperture up so there’s a nice rat passageway. This always surprises me. I wouldn’t think it mattered where a rat got on board, but that it got on board at all.

So in the old days when ships were infested with rats and the ship was wrecked in the middle of the ocean, would you be competing with rats for any floating debris to cling onto? :eek:

What if there was a floating wood door full of rats would you be able to fight your way on? :eek: :eek:

I didn’t see any on my ship, but maybe Chibley (the ship’s cat) was earning her keep.