San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionHistory of the Museum

Trip to Trinidad Whaling Station, July-August 1926

About the Trip

In the summer of 1926, museum naturalist Laurence Huey drove up the newly-opened Highway 101 to Trinidad, California, with colleague A. Brazier Howell of the Smithsonian Institute, to study whales at a commercial whaling station. Besides the whales, the other figures in this story were whaling station owner Frederick Dedrick and ship captain Louis Lane. Huey was an enthusiastic photographer and created a scrapbook of about 70 photos, which along with his field notes and letters provide us with a record of this expedition. In the following pages, Huey’s field notes are augmented with his photos, additional contemporary photos, and comments footnoted via hyperlinks.

This was just one of many expeditions made by Huey in that year, only a couple of which were outside of Mexico. Although Huey often observed whales and other sea mammals on his numerous trips to the waters around Baja California, many of his expeditions centered around the observation and collection of birds and small mammals. The purpose of this expedition was to gather information about whale anatomy and behavior, and about whaling. Despite the unusual focus of this expedition, Huey still paid close attention to the birds and rodents of the area, and set numerous traps in order to collect specific types of mammals.

In reading Huey’s field notes of this trip, it is remarkable how he alternates between dispassionate descriptions of the often slow and obviously difficult deaths of the whales - “a long sharp perforated pipe was stuck into its rectals & soon it was bloated with air and died” – and admiration for the creatures: “Finbacks are rather pretty animals”. It is interesting to contrast the tone in Huey’s field notes with that in his contemporaneous letters to SDNHM director Clinton Abbott, which are much more informal and jocular.

A. Brazier Howell
howell photo

A. Brazier Howell
A. Brazier Howell, born in Maryland in 1886, spent a total of one year in college, and then dove into a self-funded study of the birds of the Channel Islands. His interests expanded to include mammals, and in the 1910s he sold a substantial set of 5000 specimens to the Dickey collection in Los Angeles. During the 1920s he was officially associated with the Divison of Biological Survey in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as the Smithsonian Institute, but continued his independent studies and trips. His experiences as a field naturalist earned him a position as professor of anatomy at Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1928. In 1930, Howell published a book, Aquatic Mammals, presumably based on knowledge gained both in this expedition and others, such as a 1928 study of captive bottlenose dolphins at Hatteras, NC. The Trinidad trip may have been a result of prodding by his colleagues: in a letter written to Joseph Grinnell several months before the trip, he writes: “[Kellogg] and Miller have chevvied me into some whale stunts”. These studies also motivated him to organize the “Council for the Conservation of Whales and other Marine Mammals”, which testified before the U.S. Senate in 1931 to spur the government to apply controls to the killing of large whales, which were dwindling to extinction.

In justifying his efforts to save the large whales from extinction, Howell said: “it may be seen that our whale supply is a matter of economic importance, and not merely of aesthetic concern to those with emotional tendencies”

Frederick Dedrick
dedrick photo
Photo Credit

Frederick Dedrick
Dedrick was a Norwegian whaler who founded the California Sea Products Company in 1914, and in the following years he established stations at Moss Landing and Trinidad. Hunting for whales using steam-powered boats and harpoon cannons resulted in their rapid depletion, and after the 1926 hunting season described in these field notes, Dedrick began using floating stations along the west coast. These stations had two advantages: they could be moved to where the whales were known to be, and they allowed the speedy processing of whales without a trip back to the station. Pacific Coast operations were also hurt by an increase in worldwide supply due to the expansion of whaling into the Antarctic: in 1929, worldwide whale oil production was five times greater than in 1919; during this period, the Pacific Coast contribution to whale oil production decreased from 1/10 to 1/40 of the total.

Louis Lane
lane photo

Louis Lane
Louis Lane, captain of the whaler “Hercules”, had a colorful past in the Arctic. He was born in Nome, Alaska, around 1879. His initial whaling efforts were from the shore, but he then moved on to powered boats and even claimed to have made the first commercial landing at Wrangel Island, off the coast of Siberia. In 1913, he made an expedition in his schooner Polar Bear, accompanied by newsreel cameraman Will Hudson and also five aspiring Arctic hunters from Harvard, planning a mix of whaling and sport hunting. The vessel got trapped in ice in the Beaufort Sea, and Lane, Hudson, and two of the hunters hiked across the ice, through the Brooks Range, and all the way to Fairbanks. Lane sailed back to the Polar Bear the next Spring and resumed the trip. This journey was documented by Will Hudson in his book Icy Hell, and also by Polar Bear chief engineer Ben Kilian, in his book The Voyage of the Schooner Polar Bear (edited by John Bockstoce). Lane had further adventures in whaling and fur trading in Alaska and Asia, and on a 1924 trip brought along film maker Sydney Smith, who filmed footage for the movie Mystery of the Arctic. In 1925, Lane moved to California, working as both a whaler and harbor pilot. He was again involved in motion pictures when he commanded the Nanuk in the 1933 movie Eskimo. (from Kilian/Bockstoce)

Trinidad trip pages created by Stacy Wile, Research Library intern