I have a culture, superficially similar to the Inuit cultures, that lives on numerous small islands far to the north. Many of these islands are devoid of deer or other large mammals and on a number of them, the only source of food is lichens and marine mammals; seals and whales. So my question was, could whale and seal skin be used to make leather? as far as I know the Inuit used reindeer for that, but my culture lacks this resources. If it can't be used for leather, what might replace it? The islands are mostly rock with some topsoil, sparse scatterings of trees on a few and numerous lichens and bird species.
$\begingroup$ There is currently commercial use for clothes of seal skin. Take a look at this page to see a catalog: furcanada.com/web/browse-category-6-seal-skin-clothing.html $\endgroup$– Carlos ZamoraAug 16, 2018 at 20:43
1$\begingroup$ FYI, the Innuit (according to Amundsen's book) used seal leather extensively, including to make their kayaks. $\endgroup$– user39548Aug 16, 2018 at 20:46
1$\begingroup$ Seal fur is totally a thing. I cannot easily find references to whale skin turned to leather; there are some rumors that it might be too thin or too oily. $\endgroup$– Bald BearAug 16, 2018 at 20:46
1$\begingroup$ Correction; maybe whale skin is too thick, or it does not work well with chemicals used to make leather (e.g. lime). I did hear of whale skins used to make ropes for ships. $\endgroup$– Bald BearAug 16, 2018 at 20:53
1$\begingroup$ This article should be useful to you. sciencemag.org/careers/2005/09/… It also mentions using seal and whale intestines as 'leather'. $\endgroup$– DrBobAug 19, 2018 at 15:51
Seal skin has been used for leather for a long time. Indeed, it is leather as all skin (including human) when properly tanned is leather. It's really a question of how thick it is. Human skin isn't thick enough to make a good leather.
Whale leather also exists, but some comments online suggest many species' skin is too thin or rubbery to make what we humans would consider a good leather. Nonetheless, not finding a lot of whale leather products today may have a lot to do with decades of sustained Green Peace effort.
But, just to make a point, for a while you could get your luxury SUV with whale penis leather seats, but apparently that had some complaints and withdrew the option (if it was ever really an option and not just a publicity stunt).
2$\begingroup$ Whale penis leather was used to make clothing for whalers in the Age of Sail. $\endgroup$– Monty Wild ♦Aug 17, 2018 at 3:14
$\begingroup$ @MontyWild, I did not know that! Thanks for the added info! $\endgroup$– JBHAug 17, 2018 at 5:21
1$\begingroup$ Fun fact, the technical term for a whale penis is dork. Way to make a SUV dorky. $\endgroup$ Aug 17, 2018 at 13:43
While whale and seal can both be used as leather, I would actually suggest a sealskin coat that is stuffed with some kind of fine lichen or maybe witches hair lichen. Other stuffing could include moss, air bladders from fish, or shredded fine bark.
(Edit: Seal Skin has been used traditionally by natives because of its waterproof qualities.)
Most fish can actually be made into a leather, but skate, rays, halibut, and Salmon all seem like the most prominent or likely choices. Shark is also used for leather, though I don't know how it compares to seal, which is definitely good for your purpose.