Whaling in Australia started in the late 18th century. The Davidson Whaling Station, just outside of Eden on the south coast of New South Wales, was one of the first commercial whaling operations in Australia. Numerous other coastal whaling stations were established around Australia in the late 1820s to 1830s.
Whaling and the export of whale by-products such as whale oil became one of Australia's first primary industries. Whales were used for a number of things. Whale blubber was melted down to be used as oil for lamp fuel, lubricants and candles and as a base for perfumes and soaps. Baleen (whalebone) was used for items such as corsets, whips and umbrellas.
Boats and harpoons
Early whaling, in the 18th century, was carried out using harpoons from small boats. The harpooned whales were towed behind the boats back to whaling stations on shore.
The development of harpoon guns, explosive harpoons and steam-driven whaling boats in the late 19th century made large-scale commercial whaling so efficient that many whale species were over-exploited and came very near to extinction.
The end of whaling and the beginning of conservation
Over-exploitation eventually ended the whaling industry in Australia. For example, an estimated 8,300 humpback whales were killed on the east coast between 1949 and 1962. As whale numbers plummeted in the 20th Century, laws were passed to protect a number of the species.
In NSW, whaling ended in 1962. Cape Byron, now one of the state’s most important whale watching sites, was the last of the state’s whaling stations to close.
Since this time, populations have slowly begun to recover. Counts conducted in 2006 indicate that, from the estimated 200 to 500 Humpbacks left in 1962, the current east coast population may have grown to be around 8,000 animals. In 2012 around 1,900 Humpback whales were counted at Cape Solander, Sydney, on their annual migration.
All commercial whaling in Australia ended in 1978 with the closure of the Cheynes Beach Whaling Company, in Western Australia.
In 1979, Australia adopted an anti-whaling policy, permanently ending whaling in Australian waters. At the same time Australia started to focus heavily on working towards the international protection and conservation of whales.
Whales, dolphins and porpoises in NSW waters are now protected under the Commonwealth Environment and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Amendment (Marine Mammals) Regulation 2006.
Get out and see these gentle giants of the sea. Check out the Top Spots map for the best areas to see them.
The history of whaling in Eden, NSW
Twofold Bay near the township of Eden was the site of one of Australia’s largest whaling industries. This history of whaling in this small town is best told by sharing the story of the Davidson family.
The Davidsons lived near the mouth of the Towamba River and from here they operated Australia’s longest running shore-based whaling station from 1847-1930. The Davidson family were known locally for their whaling heritage as well as being the only family known to work in partnership with orcas to hunt whales.
The nearby village of Boydtown was built by Scottish entrepreneur Benjamin Boyd in the 1840s. Although whaling was conducted from Boydtown for many years afterwards, Boydtown eventually fell into disuse. What remains is the Seahorse Inn, a grand building now restored to its former splendour.
Boyd’s Tower, located at the entry to Twofold bay was originally built as a lighthouse by Boyd in the 1840s, it was never lit and later became a key lookout point to spot passing humpback and southern right whales.
Follow the Killer Whale Trail on the NSW Sapphire Coast and learn about the Davidson family and discover an incredible time when humans and wild orcas hunted together.
Simply scan a QR code with your smart device to uncover stories and hear from eyewitnesses. Keep an eye out for whales too, as these sites become the perfect vantage points in spring.
Read more about the Killer Whale Trail.