With the advent of whaling in Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the later 18th century, many Māori became involved in the industry. By 1804, they were said to be participating in whaling, and by the 1840s whaleboats were being widely used by them. Māori men played a major role at shore stations, some reaching the position of headsman in command of a whaleboat. Around most of the country, as many as 40% of the whalers may have been Māori, and in Otago the figure was higher.
Visiting European whalers had profound impacts on Māori society. Many were highly dependent on Māori for food and repairs, and a number married local women. Many Māori can trace descent from marriages between Māori women and Pākehā whalers. Well-known whalers such as Dicky Barrett, George Fyfe, Paddy Gilroy, Thomas Halbert, Happy Jack Greening, William Haberfield, John Hughes, Manuel Lima, Jacky Love, William Morris, James Spencer, Phillip Tapsell and Edward Weller all fathered children with Māori women.
The end of whaling
Māori continued whaling in the late 19th century, long after most of the whaling stations had closed. Increasingly, they pursued it as a seasonal, part-time activity, hunting humpbacks and the occasional sperm whale. This remained an important practice until the mid-1920s for the Te Whānau-ā-Apanui tribe, and for families around Cook Strait and further south.
Modern Māori and whales
More recently, Māori have moved into ecotourism ventures. Members of Ngāti Kurī, a hapū of the Ngāi Tahu tribe, created Kaikōura Whale Watch. Tourists observe the migratory parāoa (sperm whales), Hector’s dolphins and other attractions along the Kaikōura coastline (on the north-east coast of the South Island).
Māori have also asserted their rights, under Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi (New Zealand’s founding document), to harvest resources such as bone from stranded whales that die. Some tribes are actively involved in this as a way of recovering their cultural traditions relating to beached whales. The people of Wharekauri (the Chatham Islands), Te Tai Poutini (the South Island’s West Coast), Ngāti Haumia (at Paekākāriki), Ngātiwai (in Northland) and other tribes all take part.