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Whale tales will abound when former whalers and others gather this Saturday (27 November) to celebrate restoration of the historic Perano Whaling Station in Tory Channel.

Date:  22 November 2010

Whale tales will abound when former whalers and others gather this Saturday (27 November) to celebrate restoration of the historic Perano Whaling Station in Tory Channel.

Around 15 people who worked at the whaling station, including whale chaser crew and whale-processing factory workers, are attending the celebration of the first stage of preservation work at the site that is a landmark of the 137-year whaling heritage of the Tory Channel area.

New Zealand’s first and last onshore whaling stations were both located in Tory Channel in the Marlborough Sounds. The first was set up in 1827 at Te Awaiti by John Guard. The Perano Whaling Station, in neighbouring Fishing Bay, was the last, closing in December 1964 after which commercial whaling was banned in New Zealand waters.

The Perano family began whaling in Tory Channel in 1911.  In 1924 Joe Perano set up the Fishing Bay station that is now managed by the Department of Conservation as an historic site.

In the first stage of the Perano Whaling Station restoration, a recreation hall-come-film theatre has been refurbished and preservation work carried out on whale-processing equipment and factory structures. The work, which got underway in September, has been achieved by DOC staff and many hardworking volunteers.

Video-documentation also has taken place of former whalers talking about their whaling experiences and whaling station life as an historic record.

DOC Sounds Visitor Assets Programme Manager Mark Nelson said the preservation project recognised the significance of the Perano Whaling Station as New Zealand’s largest and last whaling station and for the leading-edge technology developed there.

“Restoring the Perano Whaling Station enhances it as a visitor destination that provides a fascinating insight into whaling station life and the tough and sometimes risky work of whalers.

“The Perano site is the most intact of New Zealand’s remnant whaling stations so it is a fitting place to remember and learn about our whaling history. The site also serves to celebrate New Zealanders’ inventive spirit and design by necessary practicality. The Perano family were renowned for their forward thinking and innovative attitude, including pioneering and developing the use of small high speed motor launches to chase and harpoon whales in Cook Strait.”

As well as the theatre, remaining structures and equipment at the whaling station include the concrete breastworks and factory floor, a Kvaerner digester which could process 25 tonnes of whale at a time, the steam boiler that drove the plant, the slipway up which the whales were hauled, bone saws and whale oil processing tanks.

Mark said the next stage of the restoration would develop interpretation to tell the stories of Tory Channel whaling, the whaling station and the whalers who worked there.

“We plan as part of that to show the footage of former whalers sharing their exhilarating and entertaining recollections.

“Tribute will also be paid to Joe Perano, who founded the whaling station, and the Perano family.”

Mark said there had been tremendous community support and enthusiasm for the conservation project.

“We’re grateful for the help of Jon, Adrian, Ted and Ron Perano, and also other former whalers who worked at the station for their close involvement, including advising us on the restoration so the whaling station could be authentically returned to its original state.

“Our thanks go too to all the volunteers who have helped us including the more than 30 people who worked on site for a week at a time, among them Marlborough locals and sounds’ bach owners. We’re also appreciative of the assistance given to us by local businesses.

The refurbished recreation hall will be officially opened at this Saturday’s celebration by Marlborough Mayor Alistair Sowman.

A commemorative stone, remembering four whaling station workers killed in accidents, will be blessed by iwi and unveiled by members of their families.

The restored recreation hall will on the day once again function as a film theatre showing footage that will include the conservation work being carried out, excerpts from the interviews with former whalers, and historic film of whaling.


Mark Nelson, Sounds Area Visitor Assets Programme Manager, at DOC’s Picton office, phone +64 3 520 3002.

Trish Grant, DOC Nelson/Marlborough media advisor, phone +64 3 546 3146.

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