A whale of a history tale

In its lifetime the Perano whaling station processed 3450 humpback whales, 266 sperm whales, five blue whales, four sei whales and one fin whale.

The Perano family introduced modern shore whaling methods to the Cook Strait and Marlborough Sounds area in 1911, operating for 53 years.

In 1886, Agostino Perano and his wife Susan moved from Port Chalmers to Picton to start pilchard and sardine fishing.

They had 11 children, and this was an advantage for their fishing enterprise – it gave them a ready source of labour.

When Agostino Perano retired, the pilchard business came to an end.

In 1904, Joe Perano was fishing in Cook Strait when a pair of humpback whales came close by – scaring the daylights out of him.

Joe and blacksmith friend Harry Smith devised a "bomb lance" to try to kill the whales.

It took some time before they were able to use it, but it worked well, and this convinced Joe to go whaling. In the winter of 1911, he and Charlie Perano began whaling out of Yellerton Bay in Tory Channel. Today, the bay is called Te Rua Bay.

The first whale harpooned and killed by the Peranos was a humpback, caught near Dieffenbach Point.

Five others were killed in Cook Strait that season and towed back to the Yellerton whaling station for processing.

The Perano family operated from three different whaling stations in Tory Channel (Te Rua, Tipi Bay and Fisherman's Bay) until December 22, 1964.

Te Rua (Yellerton) was found to be too far from the whaling grounds in Cook Strait, and a new factory was built at Tipi Bay in 1912, which operated for 16 years.

In 1923, the station at Fishing Bay or Fisherman's Bay, as it is known today, was established by Joe Perano.

Joe and Charlie Perano had a falling-out, and this was the beginning of intense competition between the two.

In 1927, two rival whaling boats collided while attempting to harpoon the same whale, and this resulted in a much-publicised court case.

The Tipi Bay partnership (Charlie Perano's) lost, and was crippled by the legal costs and reparations it had to pay to Joe Perano. The Tipi Bay station closed in 1928.

Fishing Bay continued to be used for whaling, increasing its technology both at the land-based station and on the sophisticated whale chase boats and supporting mother ship.

By 1960, the Perano whaling station employed about 45 people, and that year processed a total of 226 whales.

However, the large factory ships operated by Norwegians, Russians and Japanese were having a huge impact on whale numbers, which were quickly depleted, and the station closed in 1964 as the New Zealand Government placed a total ban on whale hunting.

The Marlborough Express