Commercial Whaling in Newfoundland and Labrador in the 20th Century
The modern era of commercial shore-station whaling began in Newfoundland and Labrador following the incorporation of a Newfoundland-Norwegian joint venture company on 29 December 1896. The Cabot Steam Whaling Co. Ltd. killed its first whale in June of 1898. The company initially earned large profits and continued hunting until 1916 to supply stations at Snook's Arm and Balaena.
The former was the first modern shore whaling station built in North America. The initial success of the Cabot Steam Whaling Co. induced other Newfoundlanders to invest in a second company, the Newfoundland Steam Whaling Co. Ltd., which from 1900 operated at Reuben's Cove and Rose-au-Rue. Continued success resulted in further investor interest and industrial expansion.
Exploitation in the Whaling Industry
Modern shore-station whaling reached its peak in Newfoundland and Labrador in 1904, when 10 vessels operating from 14 factories captured 1275 whales - producing 1,492,456 gallons of oil, 2903 tons of whale bone and 3511 tons of fertilizer, or "guano".
Local stocks could not sustain this level of exploitation. Despite the construction of four new stations and the addition of five catchers in 1905, for example, the total catch declined by more than 30%, to 892 whales. An indication of just how few whales remained was provided in an Evening Herald editorial of 18 June 1906 which, in commenting on the small numbers which had been sighted in early June, noted that it "is regarded as the best week of the year for whaling, and its utter failure shows better than anything else the collapse of the industry." Further catch declines led to a gradual closing down of stations and sale of catchers, which continued until the industry ceased temporarily at the end of the 1916 season.
Attempts to Revitalize the Industry
Despite two unsuccessful attempts at revitalizing the local industry in 1918 and 1919, Newfoundland and Labrador shore station whaling languished until 1923 when a Norwegian whaling master, Captain Amund Anonsen, formed the Newfoundland Whaling Co. Ltd. with Newfoundland and Norwegian share capital. Seventy-one whales were captured by two catchers operating from a reopened station at Beaverton. Whale oil exports in 1927-28 were the most lucrative since the peak years of whaling in 1903-05. Following the lead of the Newfoundland Whaling Co. Ltd., two Norwegian merchants went into partnership with Job Brothers of St. John's in late 1926 to incorporate the British Norwegian Whaling Co. Ltd. Instead of reopening one of the older factories, a new plant was constructed at Watering Cove, Big Grady Island, Labrador, in order to take advantage of the more successful northern whaling grounds. The Grady factory was located in a "poor harbour", however, and thus had only limited success. Both companies ceased operations during 1931-32 as a result of global oil oversupply, reduced demand and low prices.
The Newfoundland Whaling Co. Ltd. was restructured in 1933 and resumed hunting the following year from Hawke Harbour and Rose-au-Rue. Beset by limited resources and marginal success, the company formed an alliance with the major global whaling enterprise, Christian Salvesen and Co. Ltd. of Leith, Scotland. A new Salvesen subsidiary, the Polar Whaling Co. Ltd., was set up to carry out the company's Newfoundland operations and began whaling in 1937. Another oil market collapse and the outbreak of WWII, however, brought about more than a decade of reduced whaling. This probably enabled local stocks to recover, and whales now appeared abundant. In the latter half of the 1940s, Newfoundland and Labrador shore-station whaling thus enjoyed a marked revival. Increased postwar demand for whale products and a consequent rise in oil prices attracted further attention from local investors. New stations were therefore opened at Williamsport in 1945 and at Dildo two years later. Local whale stocks, however, had in fact not recovered sufficiently to sustain this level of activity, and by the early1950s the industry was once again in decline.
Limited attempts to resume large-scale whaling during the 1950s and early 1960s were linked closely with fur farming and the capture of small whale species. The Arctic Fishery Products Co. Ltd. plant at Dildo was built primarily to process pothead and minke whale meat and oil, and in part to help ease meat shortages on local mink and fox farms. Subsequent increased hunting pressure on those pothead stocks which seasonally frequented Trinity and Bonavista bays, and which previously had supported traditional whale "drives", made it necessary for the Newfoundland government to offer incentives encouraging "small whaling operations in deep waters. . . as a means of locating a permanent food supply for the mink ranchers" (ET 20 Apr. 1955). Minke whale catches, however, were not able to offset the growing scarcity of potheads, and by the mid-1960s fur ranchers had to import whale meat.
The final resurgence of Newfoundland and Labrador commercial whaling began in 1966 when Arctic Fishery Products Co. Ltd. began using the Dildo factory to process meat for human consumption in Japan. The Japanese became directly involved in the local whaling industry when Taiyo Gyogyo K.K. entered into a partnership with Arctic Fishery Products to form the Atlantic Whaling Co. Ltd. The new company processed 1248 fin, humpback and sei whales at Williamsport between 1967 and 1972 for 33,063 barrels of oil.
Moratorium and Whale Watching
A Canadian moratorium on commercial whaling in 1972 forced the closure of the Dildo and Williamsport stations, thus signalling the final ending of more than 400 years of traditional and modern commercial whaling in Newfoundland and Labrador coastal waters. In the modern era (1898-1972), 21 factories strategically located close to stocks migrating around the Island and southern Labrador had processed almost 20,000 whales.
Almost thirty years after the close of the Newfoundland and Labrador whale fishery, it has become an important factor in promoting regional cultural - heritage tourism, while revitalized stocks are encouraging the rapid growth of an entirely new tourist industry - whale watching.