Whale oil is the oil that is harvested from whales, and the basis of the Empire's industrial revolution. Highly volatile, it is held in tanks which can be found throughout major cities. In Dunwall, it is used to power all technology, while in Karnaca, it is used interchangeably with wind power.
Whale oil's potential as an energy source was discovered by the natural philosopher Esmond Roseburrow, who observed vagabonds in Slaughterhouse Row using collected whale oil to stoke fires. Through a special refinement process, he turned whale oil into a fuel source that advanced the Isles' technology by centuries. It also turned the once marginal and supplementary whaling industry into the most vital industry for all the Isles. Whaling houses like the Greaves Company and the Rothwild Slaughterhouse turned into wealthy, industrial powerhouses. Later, Anton Sokolov proposed the first plans to use whale oil in technological weaponization in the early 1800s.
During Hiram Burrows reign as Lord Regent, mandatory whale oil rationing took place throughout Dunwall, with some districts being banned from using whale oil. In the final days of his reign, Burrows instituted a city-wide ban on the burning of whale oil, with all who owned it being required to bring it to the City Watch. Around the same time, due to whale oil being a vital state industry, loudspeaker announcements reminded Dunwall citizenry that collective bargaining with it was considered a capital offense.
By 1852, whales had become increasingly rare due to overfishing. Empress Emily Kaldwin issued an unpopular decree ordering the rationing of whale oil across the Empire to mitigate shortages, which resulted in driving its price up and hampering its availability to people outside of industry, aristocracy, and government. While some began to speculate that the Empire's age of industry would end once whale oil finally disappeared, commentators in Karnaca noted that the city had a ready and abundant alternative power source in the form of the local wind currents.
Whale oil is easily recognized by the bright blue glow it emits, which can be best seen in the whale processing and oil refining areas of the Greaves Refinery in the Flooded District and in Slaughterhouse Row, where leaked whale oil illuminates the halls and surrounding streets. It is extremely unstable and volatile; throwing or shooting a full whale oil tank will cause it to explode.
It is speculated that whale oil is naturally produced within the bodies of whales due to great pressures deep in the ocean, for the purpose of temperature regulation. It is theorized by Piero Joplin that if the human body were exposed to such pressures, it could produce something similar to whale oil; these experiments have not come to fruition, due to financial and ethical concerns.
- Unrefined whale oil exists, and is utilized in Chokedust weapons, producing an oily, choking cloud on detonation.
- The in-universe whale oil is likely based on the real-life substance called "spermaceti", found in and chiefly harvested from sperm whales. Like the oil, spermaceti was harvested by 18th century whalers and refined to be used as fuel in lamps, heaters and candles. As the whales of Dishonored closely resembles sperm whales, the design choice is appropriate.
- The Tales from Dunwall Chapter 1: The Awakening
- Loudspeaker Announcements: "Attention Dunwall Citizens. A mandatory whale oil ration is now in effect. Non-compliance is a punishable offense."
- Loudspeaker Announcements: "Attention Dunwall Citizens. This district is now under a mandatory whale oil ban. Compliance will be strictly enforced."
- Loudspeaker Announcements: "Attention Citizens of Dunwall. The Lord Regent has ordered strict whale oil ban rationing in this area. Failure to comply will result in immediate arrest."
- Loudspeaker Announcements: "A city-wide ban on whale oil is now in effect. Citizens are encouraged to bring any whale oil in their possession to the City Watch at once. Anyone caught burning oil will be subject to arrest. This message is a directive from the Lord Regent himself. We must all trust in the Regent."
- Loudspeaker Announcements: "This is a reminder that collective bargaining in any industry deemed vital to the state is a capital offense. These include metallurgy, whale collection and refinement, security services, and selected legal and clerical specializations. Consult the City Barrister for clarifications and enforcement."
- Piero Considers Life Energy