It’s unfortunate that Japan and Norway still hunt and kill whales. By the middle of the 19th century these magnificent creatures were almost wiped from the planet’s oceans as they were relentlessly hunted in all the known oceans of the world.  Their oil was used for lamps, for lubrication and for use in soap and margarine. Whale bones added stiffness to women’s fashionable clothing of the time and were also used for hut building and art. Fortunately for the survival of the world’s whale populations, petroleum began to replace whale oil and by the start of the 20th century the mass slaughter of whales ended. However, whaling continued in New Zealand until 1964 when the working life of the country’s last shore based whaling station finally ended. (thank goodness)


In 1935, New Zealand passed a law protecting the right whale but other types of whale were still hunted in distressing numbers.  It was called the ‘right whale’ because it swam close to the shore and was docile and easy to catch so was the ‘right whale’ to hunt. In 1946, New Zealand became a founding member of the International Whaling Commission and in 1986 it supported the commission’s full moratorium on whaling. In the 1970s, all marine mammals became legally protected in New Zealand waters.


In 1827, ex-convict Jack Guard began a whaling operation in the Tory Channel. The trypots he used can still be seen today. By 1830 another whaler, Peter Williams had established a whaling station at Preservation Inlet on Stewart Island. Shore based whalers hunted the right whale for its oil and by the 1840s, whaling stations had been set up in Otago and Akaroa harbours as well as Cloudy Bay where the whales congregated to calve. Employing over 1000 men whaling became an important contributor to the New Zealand economy.

However, even in the early decades of whaling in New Zealand, the industry was at risk of destroying itself for its unsustainable methods.  In 1843, German naturalist Ernst Dieffenbach wrote: “The shorewhalers, in hunting the animal in the season when it visits the shallow waters of the coast to bring forth the young, and suckle it in security, have felled the tree to obtain the fruit, and have taken the most certain means of destroying an otherwise profitable and important trade.”


In 1911, the last whaling station in New Zealand was set up by Dunedin fisherman Joseph Perano after he encountered two humpback whales in Cook Strait. He built his operation at Fisherman’s Bay on Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds. Joseph came up with a number of deadly innovations to help kill more whales, including constructing the first power-driven whale chaser in New Zealand. He was also the first local whaling operator to use explosive harpoons, along with using the first electric harpoon in New Zealand.  In his quest to find more unfortunate whales, he launched the big steam chaser Orca as well as purchasing a spotter aircraft. After he died in 1951, his whaling business continued in and around the Tory Channel for 15 more years, run by his sons, Gilbert and Joseph.

Perano Whaling Station (NZ History)


The last whale to be harpooned in New Zealand waters was killed on 21 December 1964 off Kaikoura and was dragged up the coast and processed at the Perano Whaling Station. The killing of this unfortunate creature by Trevor Norton ended more than 170 years of whaling in New Zealand. You can still see a wharf and the skeletal remains of the processing complex, complete with the slipway once used to haul up the whales for processing.

In 2010, the Department of Conservation completed restoration work on this depressing whaling station.  I would imagine the atmosphere is rather heavy considering the gruesome activity that went on there all those years ago to feed the “robber economy” that impacted so heavily on the whales that made New Zealand waters their home.

Perano Whaling Station Today (

Today, whales continue to create jobs and income for New Zealanders but this time they are admired for being alive and people who witness these fantastic creatures up close from a tourist launch are usually overcome with awe at the power, size and majesty they display as they frolic in the same waters where they were once hunted to near extinction.

Please leave a comment if you found this blog informative.

Ceidrik Heward

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