July 24-28

Processing Whales

July 24

Bray captured another Phenacomys this morning while my line held a half dozen shrews.

Two more Finback Whales were brought in this morning & we spent about half the day making photographs & observing the operations about the factory. One of the manager’s nephews showed us all thru the place, giving us full details of the operation of the process of each product made from the whales. Oil of course, is the chief product & is used by Procter & Gamble Co. in manufacturing their finest soaps. The Standard Oil Co. uses some to fuse with mineral oil for making lubricants. Several grades of oil are made. The 1st grade from the blubber, 2nd from the muscles, 3rd & 4th grades from intestines & bones & is graded according to the condition the whale reaches the station. The fresher the animal the better the grade of oil. Oleo margarine is made from the lowest grades.

The meat is made into chicken feed if brought in in fresh condition. It is boiled in large pressure steam cookers & dried in a large drying cylinder. All the oil is extracted while being boiled.

A double floor under the cutting room floor catches all the excrement & blood which is boiled down with the intestines & made into fertilizer.

The bones are run thru pressure cookers where all the oil is extracted & the bones, after being dried, are sent to the sugar refineries to be used in refining sugar.

Chopping up baleen

Very little of the whale goes to waste & the terrific odor about the place is caused by the drying of the fertilizer tho the meat cooking does not have such a savory odor and on my first visit to the place I could scarcely enjoy the next few meals but am more used to it now.

On a Whaling Boat

July 25

At an early hour this morning we found the Hercules anchored off the plant so I aroused Mr. Dedrick from his bed to find whether I could make the promised trip on the boat today. He gave his consent so back to camp I dashed after cameras, bed roll, etc.

Mr. Howell promised to look after my traps & prepare such material as had been captured.

We were introduced to Captain Lane of the Hercules by Mr. Dedrick. The Captain proved to be a very likeable chap & had sailed the arctic waters for over 35 years. He is well acquainted with Charlie Brower of Pt. Barrow & with Bent-Beck-Dixon Snow and others that are well known in Natural History circles, so we hit it off in good style.

Charlie Brower was a well-known Alaskan who whaled using techniques of the native Americans. The "Bent-Beck-Dixon-Snow" reference is a mystery.

We got under way about 9:30 bound for Eureka where the ship was to take fuel & have some repairs made.

The day was beautiful, cool & clear & soon after leaving Trinidad I saw my first Gillimot & Calif. Murre in life. Farther out Dark-bodied Shearwaters were not uncommon.

Entering Humboldt Bay 3 Heerman’s Gulls were seen with Western Gulls & Calif. Brown Pelicans in greater abundance. We put in the afternoon doing odd jobs about the vessel & after dinner I had a very pleasant evening with Capt. Lane. He told among other interesting things how the cow whale carries its newly born young. He says that the newly born whale cannot take care of itself & that it is carried by the mother on her forehead held there by suction of her blow “hole”. Capt. Lane says he has several times seen the cow whale come up under the baby & carry it off in this manner. 

He also states that the mother whales leave their calves after they are old enough to swim, much in the same manner as a mother deer leaves her young when feeding.

Early whalers of the 18th and 19th centuries, like predators of any species, had extensive knowledge of their quarry". Although newborn cetaceans have relatively well-developed sensory and motor abilities, the mortality rate among Gray Whales during their first year is estimated to be 35%. The percentage of time that mother and calf spend apart depends on the species and is related to feeding habits.

July 26-27

Spent at Eureka awaiting the completion of repairs.



A Finback Gets Away

July 28

We put to sea short-handed at 7 a.m. taking a southwesterly course from the whistling buoy. Towards noon the west wind came up causing a very rough sea. At two-thirty a lone whale was located & we set off in pursuit going very slowly. The animal was about two miles from the ship when first sighted and by its actions was identified as Finback. This conclusion was made because the beast did not “fluke” or show his tail above water when “sounding” or diving deep. We followed it for over two and a half hours not getting closer than 500 feet. Capt. Lane carefully timed the beast every time it sounded & I was surprised at the accuracy with which he could call the next “blow”. Capt. later told me that Finbacks that were normally diving deep as this animal was, would stay down from 8 to 11 minutes and this one proved no exception for 4 straight dives I timed were 9:40-10:05; 9:08-10:20. 

The animal on becoming aware of our presence ceased coursing or going in a straight line & started “backing”, going off to one side or the other. Ths would throw off our course, sometimes a mile or more & by the time we caught up the whale had had a good blow & was ready for another deep dive in another direction. This made pursuit almost impossible and the chance of capture a matter of remote luck.

Capt. Lane followed this whale until he was sure that the beast was up to such pranks & then he abandoned the chase.

It was getting towards sunset & we were about 40 miles off shore so it was decided to turn back. Just about sunset I was looking at a distant ship thru the field glasses & saw two spouts about two miles to the northward. The ship was headed that way & we were soon on two very tame Finbacks.

The large beasts came within 15 feet of the ship when the exhaust of their breaths sounded like scraping straw & the intake like that of a heavy snore.

Finback Blowing

All was excitement on board the ship while we jockeyed for a position to shoot. We were not long in this attempt for the beasts rose not twenty feet in front of the ship’s bow. Imagine the chagrin when the primer in the gun failed with a sharp click. Three times we had an excellent chance when darkness prohibited further pursuit and when the ship was headed for port it was carrying a very disgruntled crew, for every one down to the cook “rated” in the kill. We arrived at Trinidad about midnight & I didn’t get off the ship.