By Richard Nester, Technical Advisor (Historic) and Tori Sellwood, Historic Intern
Today, many New Zealanders are actively opposed to the practice of whaling. However, this is a dramatic change since the early 1800s when whaling was an important primary industry in New Zealand. It was big business on Kapiti Island where six whaling stations took advantage of mother whales and their calves swimming close to shore to get to sheltered nursery bays.
Rebecca Nuttall and Kathryn Howard chipping rust of whaling try pot
Recently a DOC and volunteer team of three spent a weekend on Kapiti Island to help restore the weathered whaling try pots displayed at Rangatira Point.
Whalers targeted southern right whales as they were the ‘right’ whales to catch. They were slow-paced, swam close to the shore, and when harpooned they floated rather than sank – so they were easy to catch and also provided more oil than other species.
Southern right whale
The whaling boom only lasted a few decades before decimating the population to the brink of extinction. Before whaling began there were an estimated 10,000 southern right whales in New Zealand but the rare sightings since the early 1990s suggests there may be as few as 30 left.
There are two try pots on display at Rangatira Point that were used to render down oil from whale blubber. They tell the story of our early whaling history. In the early 1800s, there wasn’t the conservation ethic that we have today and even though early conservationists warned against the rate of whaling being unsustainable, it was more because of the effects on the industry rather than the protection of species.
Historic Technical Advisor Richard Nester restoring the whaling try pot
The steel try pots are in a marine environment and are very exposed to moisture and salt. This has resulted in an advanced rusting problem. The DOC team spent the weekend using blunt force to chip the paint and rust off the surface of the try pots and then painted them with a clear protective coating to minimise the rusting effect and results in longer maintenance free periods. The clear coating presents the artefacts in such a way that retains a patina of age.
Before and after the restoration of the try pot
By conserving the try pots we can not only tell the story of an important part of our industrial past but also explain how nearly 200 years later the southern right whale population are still yet to recover and why it’s so important to look after these beautiful creatures.