Bay Nature magazineJanuary-March 2003


Whaling from San Francisco Bay

January 1, 2003

Though whales were never hunted in San Francisco Bay itself, the whaling industry had a long presence here. Beginning in the 1830s, whaling ships of British and New England–based fleets wintered in San Francisco Bay. A hundred ships or more might be anchored along the San Francisco waterfront, where they stocked up on provisions for their long Pacific and Arctic voyages. In addition to this well-financed pelagic whaling, a small-scale commerce in coastal whales (gray, humpback, orca), hunted from rowboats that went out for the day, developed in several coastal communities, including Carmel, Monterey, Moss Landing, Davenport, Half Moon Bay, and Bolinas. With the advent of mechanized whaling in the early 1900s, whalers were able to exploit faster species (blue, fin, sei), and the industry revived for a few decades. Whaling out of the Bay made a comeback after World War II, when Del Monte Fishing Company (1956 to 1971) and Golden Gate Fishing Company (1958 to 1965) operated out of stations at Point Molate in Richmond, hunting sperm, humpback, fin, and sei whales in the open ocean. The whale meat was sold primarily for cat and dog food; the spermaceti (sperm whale oil) was sold to the nuclear industry, where its ability to withstand extreme heat was useful in the production of both weapons and electricity. Whaling from the Bay ended in December 1971, following passage by Congress of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

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