Our Latest News

Encounter Maria Island


Encounter Maria Island's new ferry Osprey V, that will allow even more visitors to enjoy one of the State's best tourism attractions, was launched today.More

Progress on Cradle Mountain Master Plan


An important milestone in the Cradle Mountain Master Plan project has been reached following a competitive tender process, with Cumulus Studio chosen to design the Cradle Mountain gateway precinct and the Dove Lake viewing shelter.More

Exciting new proposal for Tasmania's South East Cape


Award-winning local tourism operator Ian Johnstone can now progress a new project to lease and licence negotiations under the Tourism Opportunities in Tasmania's National Parks, Reserves and Crown Land process.More

History of shore-based whaling

Commercial Use

Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whale

The mainstay of the Tasmanian shore based whaling industry was Eubalaena australis, otherwise known as the right whale. It was so named because it was considered to be the "right" whale to hunt as it was easily approachable in open boats, floated after being killed and yielded substantial quantities of oil. In some cases the species was referred to as the "black" whale because of the almost uniform dark colouring of its skin. Right whales grow to a length of between 15 and 18 metres, with a weight of 55 to 95 tonnes and may have a blubber layer up to 40 cm in thickness. The right whale has a distinctively shaped head with a long, narrow, highly arched upper jaw designed for the suspension of baleen plates up to 2 metres in length. The baleen plates have fine fringes used for sieving the whales feed, small plankton, which is drawn into the mouth near or on the surface.

Right whales spend the summer months feeding in the waters of the Great Southern Ocean and move north to warmer waters to mate and breed at the end of summer, first appearing off the southern and eastern coasts of Tasmania during late autumn. Some remain in the sheltered coastal bays of Tasmania while others move northwards as far as southern New South Wales or westwards through Bass Strait and along the coasts of Victoria and South Australia. In late winter they reverse their journey and pass south along the eastern coast of Tasmania until as late as October.

Map of southern right whale's migration route

Main migratory routes of the
right whale along the south-
east Australian coastline.

At the peak period of the shore based whaling industry between 1835 and 1839 an estimated 12,000 right whales were taken in Australian waters with a further 7,000 being killed over the following five years. The effects of this rate of slaughter, and the targeting of breeding animals, is illustrated by the dramatic decline in overall numbers. Stocks have declined from an estimated 100,000 prior to exploitation to a present day world population of around 3,000.

Oil from the right whale was used primarily for outdoor lighting due to its noxious odour when burnt, while the baleen or "whalebone" was valued for its natural flexibility and used in women's clothing, craft objects and various industrial applications. The greatest market for the oil and bone produced in the Australian colonies was London, with little of the product kept for domestic consumption. The prices paid on the London market for oil varied according to demand and availability with "black" oil fetching from £20 to £50 per tun. The price of whalebone rose from £85 per ton (weight) in 1833 to over £400 per ton in 1857.

Old Whaling Station at Port Davey

Old Whaling Station at Port Davey,
1890s (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery)

Old Whaling Station at Port Davey, 1890s<BR> Vessels at Hobart Wharves 1870s

Vessels at Hobart Wharves, 1870s
(Archives Office of Tasmania)