Stan Hugill learned this song from an old Dundee (Scotland) whalerman who told him that it was often played by a piper when heaving up the whaleship anchor. Most scottish whalers, he asserts, had a piper aboard. The Old Polina is evidently a Newfoundland title.
A. L. Lloyd, himself a whaler prior to WWII, left the following liner notes for Leviathan! Ballads and Songs of the Whaling Trade:
One of the best-known whaling songs, perhaps because it was made relatively late in the history of the trade. Dundee was specially interested in whaling because her main industry, the jute manufacture, required whale oil. In 1973, the Dundee whaling fleet consisted of ten vessels, all equipped with steam power. Largest and proudest was Mr R. Kinne's Balaena, of 260 tons register, length 141 ft, with engines of 65 h.p. At that time, the fleet would leave Scotland during the first half of May, race across to Cape St John, Newfoundland, then northabout into the Davis Strait and the right-whale grounds of Melville Bay on the north west coast of Greenland. Around August they would be following the southerly migration of the whales to the Cumberland Sound on the east side of Baffin Land. With luck, by early November they would be back in Dundee, exulting over their success, like the men of the nuggety old Balaena who made this song.
With the exception of Erin's Boy, the ships mentioned in this song can be found in Basil Lubbock's excellent The Arctic Whalers.