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

Trip to Trinidad Whaling Station, July-August 1926

Catching a Finback
July 29

I was awakened by the motion of the ship under way this morning and had scarcely made the deck when a heavy blow from the gun proclaimed Capt. Lane tinkering with the weapon with hardly enough light to see. We fired several primers and decided it was ready to load.

Captain Lane at the Gun
Captain Lane at the gun

As the sun rose Black-footed Albatrosses began gathering & soon we had 8 following the ship. I tried to bait them up with a long string with a chunk of salt pork tied on the end but had no luck. The boys on the ship said they had caught many of these birds by having them swallow a large piece of meat tied on a string & then hauling them on board. About 8 a.m. we were again in the same locality in which we had left the two whales last night & sure enough two spouts were seen . These two Finbacks proved very tame and were undoubtedly the same pair we were working with last night. Approach was easy and the chance for a shot came very soon. Again, the gun clicked and not until the twelfth time did it explode. The projectile did not hit a fatal spot but it did hit a spot just back of the dorsal fin and where it could not pull out. Then the fun began. The huge beast sounded taking out 200 feet of cable so quick the the winch almost caught on fire. The ship was put on full speed while the winch took in the slack. Back & forth the cable was drawn & withdrawn and for an hour or more no one on board the ship was certain who would win. However, the poor animal thru loss of blood – for with every rise the sea was red for yards around – began to weaken & he was drawn up close to the ship. So close that the great 12 foot flukes slapped violently against the ship’s bow & the whale blew & snorted with its violent attempts to free itself of the torturous projectile. The air pump was now brought into play & a long sharp perforated pipe was stuck into its rectals & soon it was bloated with air and died.

Captain Lane
Captain Lane Aiming

The animal’s mate, undoubtedly a cow, left at a 30 mile per hour pace when the shot was fired.

While we were jockeying for positions to shoot I had ample opportunity to observe Finback whales’ movements in the water. The propelling motion is made entirely with the downward thrust of the flukes while the flippers are used to guide the beasts. From my position high up on the mast & in the crow’s nest I could see them at least 200 feet below the surface of the water & several times saw the flippers give the motion that turned the beast sideways so he could look at the ship over him. At this time the light underparts of the Finback would flash white. The animals did not appear to be very large when well submerged but were enormous when pulled up the deck into the cutting shed.

As soon as the whale was dead a great heavy chain was passed around his tail & securely fastened to a “bitt” near the bow of the ship - after this operation all the crew felt safe that the whale would not escape.

Finback tied to Hercules Finback Tied
to Hercules

While the animal was being pumped up 16 Black-footed Albatrosses sat about on the water, some of them within a few feet of the ship.

It was now 11 o’clock & as we were about 40 miles off shore we headed for port with the kill.

We arrived at Trinidad about 3 p.m. & I left the ship with my outfit.