Among the photographs posted the year I began my blog in 2011 were images from a beach walk that turned out to be remnants of an old pier in Moss Landing, California.
We were still new to the area so I did not yet know the history. and I noted that “from this angle, it had a sort of mysterious, Stonehenge feel about it” on the blog post, and asked if anyone had information.
I immediately received comments from my friend Jean, who grew up in Santa Cruz, as well as Monterey County native Melanie Mayer-Gideon informing me that the items jutting out from the beach were indeed remnants of the pier that once stood there.
I also learned the pier was used by whaling ships — and the area’s beach landed and processed whales, which may explain my Stonehenge comment, since Stonehenge was a burial ground in its early history.
Last month, the annual festival called “Whalefest” took place in Monterey’s Old Fisherman’s Wharf. The festival promotes the Monterey Bay as the “Whale Watching Capital of the World”.
The festival is in its 5th year and celebrates the migration of whales, the Monterey Bay’s marine wildlife, and raises funds that benefit local marine conservation and non-profit organizations.
While this festival is a positive one and educating the public on whales and wildlife conservation is important, I think it is also important to explore and look into the history of whales in this area…before “Whalefest”.
A publication from the state of California Fish and Game Commission titled “A History of California Shore Whaling” provided information, starting with early accounts of whales on our coast from 1602:
Perhaps whales were first mentioned on our coast by Sebastian Vizcaino in the year 1602, though this is of purely literary interest, for we do not need to be told that whales were on the coast as long as there have been such things as whales.
The following translation of Vizcaino’s voyage is given by Venegas in his history of California in 1758:
“This bay also had been already surveyed by the Almirante [one of Vizcaino’s ships] who gave it the name of Bahia de Belenas or Whale Bay, on account of the multitudes of that large fish they saw there, being drawn thither by the abundance of several kinds of fish.”
This was in Lower California, but farther on in the same account in writing of the Bay of “Monte-rey” he includes among the animals of the bay “huge sea wolves [or sea lions] and whales.”
Venegas himself says: “But the most distinguished fish of both seas are the whales; which induced the ancient cosmographers to call California, Punta de Belenas, or Cape Whale; and these fish being found in multitudes along both coasts give name to a channel in the gulf, and a bay in the south sea.” “Cape Whale” refers to Lower California, “both seas” to the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California.
The report (by Edwin C. Starks, Stanford University and printed in 1923 by the California State Printing Office) discusses whaling methods, from conventional ship whaling to “shore whaling”.
The shore whaling part is where the Moss Landing pier history comes in.
Included in the report were historical photographs of the operation at the same beach where I took my photos in December, 2011.
Early societies used whale oil processed from whale blubber to light oil lamps as well as for soaps and margarine.
When kerosene (also known as paraffin) was invented and more economical vegetable-based oils became available in the mid 1800s, the demand for whale oil declined, and the whaling industry — including shore whaling operations — started to cease operations.
Whale hunting policies also changed after the signing of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in 1946 to “provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry”. The regulation governed the commercial, scientific, and aboriginal subsistence whaling practices for its fifty-nine member nations.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was set up as a result of the 1946 agreement, and in the 1980s, the IWC adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling. From the IWC website:
Uncertainty over whale numbers led to the introduction of a ‘moratorium’ on commercial whaling in 1986. This remains in place although the Commission continues to set catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling.
Today, the Commission also works to understand and address a wide range of non-whaling threats to cetaceans including entanglement, ship strike, marine debris, climate change and other environmental concerns.
It is interesting that the invention of kerosene, a by-product of petroleum, most likely saved some species of whales from extinction. Yet, another modern petroleum-based material — plastics and nylons used in marine nets, ropes / ship rigging — is now contributing to the trash problems plaguing our oceans and threatens whales.
I wondered why whales have been on my mind recently…and the purpose for this blog post. Maybe a combination of the disturbing news last week on the new study of the enormous amount of plastic trash entering our oceans had me thinking about marine life, and, as I am nearing my 4th year blog birthday, I am looking to see if older posts need updates, including one that had my Moss Landing pier photos (What Low Tide Reveals) .
As it turns out, this blog post exploring the history of whales in the Monterey Bay, from hunting them to now celebrating them in a whale themed festival —- is actually one of hope for me…
It is validation that although we human beings can create suffering and havoc, we are also capable of change, that we can invent something — or come up with solutions to address the mess that we create (I am thinking about our current oceans plastics mess here, too!)
The same beach area once used to land and process whales is now home to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institue (MBARI)…
…a world center for advanced research and education in ocean science and technology, and to do so through the development of better instruments, systems, and methods for scientific research in the deep waters of the ocean
And from their website on “Why MBARI is located in Moss Landing?”
Monterey Bay is one of the most biologically diverse bodies of water in the world. The Monterey Canyon, which bisects Monterey Bay, is one of the deepest underwater canyons along the continental United States. MBARI’s facilities at Moss Landing are located within meters of the head of Monterey Canyon, allowing researchers to reach waters 3,600 meters deep within a few hours of leaving port.
Last night, the new series EARTH: A New Wild aired on PBS. Among the stories featured (focused on our oceans) was about turning a slimy, industrial wasteland at New York City’s Pier 29 back into an ocean habitat. They are doing this through helping oysters repopulate the area. The oysters and muscles filter the water, and quite quickly, it becomes clean enough for other species to move in.
If we can implement a way to clean the ocean water near a metropolis like New York City…well, why not other places? Again, hopeful!
The program is well produced, and I will try to catch the rest in the series.
Click on the whale photo to learn more, and to see the article about why whales “sing”.
Have you heard whale songs? When I was 15, my art teacher played whale songs in the background as inspiration during a week when she encouraged her students to create art, or write poetry about whales.
You see how teachers can inspire? Here I am now…a grandmother…who loves whales. Maybe that is the point of this post too…inspirations, and to always have hope.
A History of California Shore Whaling – BY Edwin C. Starks, Stanford University, California State Printing Office, Sacramento 1923
Related post on LolaKo.com:
Photos and blog post from a visit to WhaleFest with my grandsons Jun and Gabriel