Antarctic Whaling

In the early days when there were no factory ships as such, the entire whale processing was done at land stations. The problem with this was that various governments started to introduce legislation, which meant that whole carcass had to be processed and levied duties on the products that were produced. Whereas the factory ships were completely independent and paid no dues to any governments. As the whaling progressed at the whaling stations the catcher ships had to go further a field to catch whales as whale stocks surrounding the islands were becoming depleted.

The whaling stations were situated in various locations with South Georgia being the most prominent. The principal whaling stations in South Georgia were Grykviken, Husvik, Stromness, Leith Harbour and Prince Olaf Harbour. These stations had all the facilities of a small town for example, living accommodation in the form of barracks which could house up to 500 men and all the support services that were required to operate these stations. Some of the stations had their own hospitals which could carry out major surgery if it was required, as whaling was a very dangerous operation. There was also a small cinema, in Leith harbour as well as one at Grytviken but the Scottish connection at Leith was the projection equipment came from the old Alhambra Cinema in Leith Walk Edinburgh. There was also a library and a 'slopchest' (shop), which provided all manner of goods to the whalers, in other words the facilities, were equivalent to living in a small town. But all of these stations were dry (no alcohol was allowed for ratings) but with some ingenuity there were a number of stills, which could produce an almost palatable alcoholic drink, this of course was totally illegal but carried on through out the whaling years.

To augment their diet, which consisted largely of whale, the Norwegians introduced meat in the 1920's in the form of reindeers and they also food imported from Europe to supplement their diet. Since the introduction of the reindeer there is now quite a large population, which is increasing year by year since the demise of commercial whaling, as practically no reindeer are being taken. Gentoo and rockhopper penguin eggs were also collected during there breeding season and also made up part of the whalers diet.

They also had full facilities to process the complete whale producing oil and bi-products and storage of these goods. The goods were transported back to Europe by the supply ships, which regularly visited the stations. They also had full ship repairing facilities and even a dry dock situated at Stromness, which enabled them to carry out major ship repairs thereby avoiding sending the ships to dock yard facilities in South Africa. As the catches depleted at the land whaling stations the development of the pelagic whaling gained impetus with new devices being produced to speed up the handling and processing of the whales.

Grekviken Husvik Stromness Leith Harbour Prince Olaf Harbour Gentoo Penguins Reindeer Stag Rockhopper Penguins Leith Harbour Elephant Seal Home Page