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A whaling station on the California coast

Date: 1877
Overall: 413 x 272 mm
Medium: Wood engraving on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00000804
Place Manufactured:New York

User Terms

    This engraving illustrates the cover sheet of Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization. It shows the task of whale flensing at a shore station on the California coast.

    Unlike deep sea whalers who towed the whale to the side of the ship to carrying out flensing, bay or shore whalers - like those in this image - towed the whale to shore stations where they were flensed in the shallow waters prior to being processed on land.
    SignificanceThis engraving shows the activity of shore whaling off the Californian coast - a whaling method common to Australian waters. By the middle of the 19th century, shore whaling was established at Twofold Bay in New South Wales, Portland Bay in Victoria, Cascade Bay in Norfolk Island and throughout Tasmanian waters.
    HistoryShore whaling in California began at Monterey Bay around 1851, and proved to be so profitable that soon after whaling stations were established all along the Californian coast. During the second half of the 19th century whaling stations were established at Crescent City, Bolinas Bay, Halfmoon Bay, Pigeon Point (known then as Whale Point), Santa Cruz, Monterey Bay, Carmel Bay, San Simeon, Port San Luis (known then as Port Harford), Point Conception, Portuguese Bend, Dead Man's Island and San Diego Bay.

    Although conventional ship whaling continued off the California coast at the same time as shore whaling, there was little competition. Whaling ships confined their operations to the easier and more valuable right and sperm whales, while the shore whalers caught mostly gray and humpback whales.

    Industry and households depended on whale products for which there was no substitute. Whale oil was used for lighting and lubrication until 1860 when kerosene and petroleum started to gain popularity. The pure clean oil from sperm whales was a superior source of lighting and the finest candles were made from the whale's wax-like spermaceti. Light and flexible, baleen - the bristle-fringed plates found in the jaws of baleen whales - had many uses in objects which today would be made out of plastic.

    No part of the whale was wasted in the modern whaling process. Teams of flensers started from the head and stripped the blubber and then hacked it into manageable blocks. Pressurised steam digesters separated the oil from the liquid product which was dried, ground into powder and sold as whale meal for animal feed. In the 19th century, great iron cauldrons called trypots were used at sea and on shore for the stinking, greasy job of boiling down whale blubber. Pairs of trypots surrounded by bricks were called the tryworks. The blubber was heated and stirred until the precious oil separated out. It was then ladled into large copper coolers and later poured into casks for storage and shipment.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: A whaling station on the California coast

    Web title: A whaling station on the California coast

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