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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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Shore Stations

During the rise of pelagic whaling carried on from vessels of various nationalities, New Zealand's first locally based whaling commenced at two small shore stations, at Te Awaiti, in Tory Channel, Cook Strait, and at Rakituma, in Preservation Inlet, in 1829. The former was at a site which is only a few hundred yards from that of the modern factory of today. During the 1830s operators from New South Wales and elsewhere established shore stations along many other parts of the New Zealand coast, particularly around the South Island coast from Preservation Inlet to Timaru. John Jones owned several Otago and Southland stations and the Weller Brothers station in Otago Harbour has become one of the best known through descriptions left us in correspondence and in diaries. Other stations were set up along the remaining part of the east coast of the South Island with major concentrations of small groups on Banks Peninsula and in the Cook Strait area from Port Underwood to Kapiti Island. Further north “Dicky” Barrett operated for a few years in the late 1830s from Sugarloaf Islands near New Plymouth. His was the only station established along the west coast of the North Island, north of Kapiti. Many groups formed small shore stations along the east coast of the North Island, particularly in the Mahia Peninsula area and around East Cape into Bay of Plenty during the late 1830s and early 1840s.

Shore establishments required only a small capital outlay for the relatively simple equipment. Trypots, windlasses, knives, and barrels were the main requirements, together with two or more longboats per party for the actual catching. As the work was seasonal, whalers did not depend entirely on their catch for a living. Thus whaling was a supplement to farming or other activities during the rest of the year. For this reason small stations could exist on catches as low as two or three right whales per season and still find the venture worth while. There were nearly a hundred small shore parties in the peak years of 1843 to 1845, and the oil and whalebone they exported indicates that their total catch per season was then of the order of 400 right whales. To these must be added the hundreds of right whales killed by pelagic whalers off shore and in the bays where ships' boats were often in direct competition with those of the shore whalers.

The inevitable decline of right whales rapidly affected shore as well as pelagic whalers. Many southern parties stopped hunting in the early 1840s, and in other regions there was a progressive reduction from 1845 to 1849. At the Auckland Islands there was an unsuccessful attempt to establish a whaling industry in 1849. The Enderby settlement was founded from England, but it was poorly organised and, proving a complete failure, was closed within two years.

From 1850 to the early twentieth century right whales were caught from shore in small numbers intermittently by various parties operating with open boats from Kaikoura, Tory Channel, and the Mahia to Bay of Plenty area, but their catches remained uniformly small.

Pelagic whalers, however, could still hunt on the high seas for sperm whales which had not been so severely decimated. Some American sperm whalers called at northern ports until the turn of the century and up to 20 were entered annually in the 1870s at the Bay of Islands and a smaller number at Mangonui. There were some attempts to found a local pelagic industry by New Zealand owned vessels based on Auckland (e.g., Albion, Especulador, and Magellan Cloud) and on Dunedin (e.g., Othello, Splendid, and Chance). These vessels were not sufficiently successful to encourage larger scale efforts along the lines of whaling from Tasmania where a peak of some 60 locally owned vessels were in the Pacific Ocean. The New Zealand vessels are remembered most from Frank Bullen's service on the Splendid which resulted in his masterpiece The Cruise of the Cachalot.

The next phase of New Zealand whaling developed after a change to humpback catching by New Zealand shore parties. A few humpbacks were taken by some shore parties as early as 1837 when John Wade's catch at Palliser Bay included 10 humpbacks and two right whales. Humpbacks also formed a significant part of the catch from stations along the east coast of the North Island, where the whalers at Te Kaha (Bay of Plenty) were able to carry on with open-boat catching until the 1930s by adding humpbacks to the occasional right whales they caught.