A Tale of Killer Whales

This is not a Whale’s Tale.

It is a tale about Killer Whales.

This article contains information that some readers might find distressing.

Thoughts on Location No 15

Eden, South Coast, New South Wales

One of the first attractions we noticed in Eden was the Eden Killer Whale Museum.  I thought a museum dedicated to killer whales was an unusual thing and, initially, I was not interested in going, actually I wasn’t going to visit the museum at all.  I thought it would upset me, though I have to admit I was conflicted because I also thought that it must contain important information about a unique aspect of Australia’s history and to miss it would be a shame.

After visiting the museum and then unintentionally following The Killer Whale Trail, I’m still finding it hard to describe how I feel now knowing what happened in Twofold Bay, New South Wales more than 85 years ago.

Eden PlaqueEden, the southern most town in New South Wales, lies in the middle of Twofold Bay and is already famous for being the sight of a four day survey by Matthew Flinders and George Bass in October 1798.

After reading the plaque dedicated to this historic event, I then found another close by that is part of The Killer Whale Trail and the information on that plaque was the first inkling I had that something strange had happened in Eden all those years ago.  Curiosity forced me to go to the museum.

The killer whales that are the subject of the museum were a group of Orcinus orca known for the way they worked in co-operation with human whale hunters between 1840 and 1930.

The killer whales would prowl the entrance of Twofold Bay, between north head and south head, waiting for migrating humpback, blue, southern right and minke whales.  After finding and herding a target whale into Twofold Bay, they would alert the whalers of their presence and often help the whalers kill the ‘captured’ whale.  The most bizarre part of the story is that the unique hunting bond existed between the killer whale pod and one family in particular – the Davidson family.

Some of the killer whales became know by their distinctive markings and dorsal fins and were even given names – Humpy, Cooper, Charlie, Big Jack and Old Tom to name a few.  It was Old Tom who would alert the whalers to their captured prey by breaching and tail slapping at the mouth of the Kiah River where the Davidson family lived.  It was this behaviour that led to Old Tom being thought of as the ‘leader of the pack’.

After the trapped whale was harpooned some of the killer whales would even grab the ropes in their teeth and aid the whalers in hauling.  By way of thanking the killer whales for their ‘help’, the whalers would gift them the most delicate part of the whale, the rest was then taken ashore for processing.

This is a rare example of mutualism between humans and killer whales and the main feature at the museum is the skeleton of Old Tom.

It is speculated that the local Aborigines had collaborated with the killer whales for as long as 10,000 years, believing the mammals were the reincarnations of dead ancestors.

We stayed at the Eden Tourist Park located over the road from Aslings beach.  It rained.  I think is has rained in every location we’ve been in so far except for Dicky Beach in Queensland and that was Location No 1, so long ago now.

Here’s a few images from our unintentional trip along The Killer Whale Trail.  We didn’t even realise we followed the trail – I discovered we had done so quite by accident when writing up these thoughts.

Whaling Boat at the Museum at Trail Site No 5 - The Eden Killer Whale Museum
Whaling Boat at the Museum at Trail Site No 5 – The Eden Killer Whale Museum

Twofold Bay from the Lookout
The view across Twofold Bay at Trail Site No 1 – Rotary Lookout

Boyd Tower
You can only walk around Boyd Tower at Trail Site No 2 – Boyd’s Tower

Old Whaling Station
Old Whaling Station at Trail site No 4 – Davidson Whaling Station

Seahorse Inn
We enjoyed lunch here at Trail Site No 4 – Seahorse Inn, Boydtown

The skeleton of Old Tom, preserved at the museum, the Trail Site No 5.
The preserved skeleton of Old Tom at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

The day was very sad for me, but as I mentioned earlier, this was a part of Australia’s history albeit strange and unique.  Travelling around Australia will present us with more history lessons, perhaps others that may make me sad – I hope not.

Eden’s whaling operation shut down in 1929 and, in defence the Davidson family, they would rarely catch more than eight whales a year and then mostly only caught what the killer whales were hunting naturally.  Today we have countries who kill more whales in a single year than most Eden whalers took in a whole lifetime.

In 1947 Australia, along with 16 other nations, signed an international whaling commission agreement placing complete bans on the taking of some endangered species to ensure that all might survive.

Australia is now an anti-whaling nation.

Information sources

Author: Clare

Ever expanding one star at a time, my cosmos is a galaxy of thoughts and creativity where you can find poetry, short stories, photography and so much more.