Durban’s Connection to Whales – A Brief History

Humpback Whale Caught in Bluff Durban - 1907 - Spirit of eLan

Humpback Whale caught at Bluff, Durban, 1909

You may be considering doing some whale watching along our beautiful Durban coastline this year, but to understand how Durban came to be what it is now, we have to understand the sad history these creatures had to endure for our own personal gain. Perhaps this way we can further appreciate the whales visiting our shores and take comfort in the fact that they are now free to roam our shores without any risk from humans again.

The Durban Whaling Industry

The Durban whaling industry was started in 1907 by a gentleman called Jacob Egeland.  He was the Norwegian Consul in Durban and when he went back to Norway he raised money to start a whaling operation in Durban. The South African Whaling Company was formed in 1907 and brought two ships for catching whales to Durban from Norway. They started hunting whales in 1908.

Durban was once a busy centre of the whaling industry. Thousands of migrating whales were caught in the seas nearby and towed back to be processed into a number of products.  Oil was the most important product made from whales during the early years of whaling in Durban and was used to make soap, margarine and cooking fat. The sperm oil was used as a general purpose lubricant.  Spermaceti wax was used for candles and in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals market. One of the rarest and most pricey by products of whaling is Ambergris.  Ambergris is an intestinal blockage found in a small percentage of sperm whales. Ambergris does not lose its smell for decades and provides an amalgam used as a fixative in expensive perfumes.

The whaling season lasted from March to September as the whales migrated north.  They went past Durban at the start of the Antarctic winter and passed by on their way south again. During these months the whalers would catch a good harvest of whales without having to sail much more than 150 miles from Durban.

The whales were killed by shooting them with 165-pound metal harpoons loaded with explosive. The whales would then be pumped full of compressed air so that they would float and then be towed back to Durban. They were then be brought right into the bay and pulled up out of the water on a slipway on the bay side of the Bluff.

Whaling in Durban stopped in 1975 and now these majestic mammals are free to swim in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Board the Spirit of eLan for an amazing experience amongst the whales. See these majestic creatures up close in their natural habitat, aboard the Spirit of eLan, and give them a heartfelt welcome as they come to visit us each year. We are grateful they are still around to leave us, our children and hopefully their children after them, in awe of these gentle giants humbling us with their presence.

To find out the best times to do some whale watching aboard the Spirit of eLan, why not contact us and we will be happy to provide you with all the details you require.

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