Friday, November 1, 2013

The Old Whaling Station at Grytviken

By Larry, Wed Oct 30

I seem to have lost a day or two. The day after the finish of the Shackleton Traverse we sailed into Grytviken and it was sunny and we were able to wash out our gear and dry it. Grytviken is the only whaling station we are allowed to explore. All the outer building shells have been removed and the equipment inside is now exposed to show how whales were processed. Whales were so plentiful here in 1900 that for the first five years, they never had to leave the little bay to catch a whale! We had dinner on board with Sarah and Pat Lurcock, who have been the government here for over 20 years and spend about 8 months a year on the island. Pat runs the fisheries and most other aspects of the government and Sarah has been working on the whaling museum in Grytviken. There are about a dozen scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who are stationed nearby.

In the morning, it was sunny and sort of warm, so we took a ski up behind Mt. Hodges. It was a bit slushy at first and then got very nice. We climbed to the col on the shoulder and a few people continued up on shaky rock to the top, while Cam, Gretchen and I had a great ski down.

When we got back to the boat, Sarah gave us a wonderful tour of the whaling station and explained how the whales were processed. In the early 1900s a law was passed to require all whalers to process the entire contents of the whale, rather than taking just the baleen and oil from the blubber. The whale catchers would come in with up to about 14 whales and they would pull them up the processing ramp or plan, one by one. As they were pulled up, the meat was cut off and pulled up the ramp to the left to the boiling pots which extracted oil from the meat. To the right a bit further up was where the blubber was chopped up and sent to the top of another set of boilers. Then the remaining bones were boiled down (they found out that 30% of the whale oil was in the bones). Whatever was left over was ground into fine meal for fertilizer. They would process 12-20 whales a day on one processing line when in full production. Over the 60 years they ran the station they more than took 100,000 whales and made 9 million barrels of oil (500 million gallons). The whales that were so plentiful when they set up business in the late 1800s and early 1900s were completely gone by the 1950s. When they left the whaling stations in 1964, they thought the whales would be back soon and so they left caretakers to keep the place ready for a return in a few years. Sarah said she had seen a two whales last year in the bay but it's a very infrequent sighting. We saw no whales so far on our journey here, whereas 13 years ago we saw dozens of whales on the Pacific side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

After our tour of the whaling museum, we had a nice visit with Sue and Daniel at the BAS fishery labs. They are very proud of the work they have done to ensure the sustainability of the fishing in the area. I then stopped by Shackleton's grave where both he and Frank Wild, his right hand man are both buried. Shackleton died of a heart attack on shipboard in Grytviken in 1922 at the age of 47 at the start of a new expedition. Wild died in 1939 having been one of the most experienced people in the Antarctic exploration.


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