Old whaling site to be surveyed, protected

20:06, Feb 19 2013
Norwegian whaling base on Stewart Island
DAYS PAST: The remains of the slipway at the Norwegian whaling base in Price’s Inlet, Stewart Island.

An archeological survey of the Norwegian whaling station on Stewart Island will begin on March 7.

It will be the first time the site, at Price's Inlet on the north shore of Paterson Inlet, has been fully surveyed by archaeologists, and they plan to have the site protected by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust after their work is complete.

Trust area archeologist Matthew Schmidt said the survey would run from March 7 to 12.

Whaling base on Stewart Island
RICH HISTORY: The whaling base at Price’s Inlet, Stewart Island, during its operational years.

Environment Southland gave $10,000 funding to the project in November from its contribution to the Southland Coastal Heritage Inventory Project, funded from its marine fee.

Dr Schmidt said it was the first time a marine site dating from after 1900 had been surveyed with a view to having it protected.

The base was not protected by law but once the survey was complete, the trust could declare it an archaeological site and preserve it, he said.

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The base was set up in 1926 as a repair site for whaling operations in Antarctica's Ross Sea and operated until 1932.

Vessels that docked there would sail to Antarctica to catch whales, before taking the carcasses to factory ships to be processed.

It was a small part of the worldwide network of whaling bases run by Norwegian companies, and featured repair sheds, a bunkhouse, a cookhouse and a slipway.

The Norwegians towed the hulk of a vessel called the Othello from Australia to use as a wharf, and the wreck of the ship still lies underwater in the inlet.

Two marine archaeologists will survey the underwater site.

Another two will catalogue the artefacts on land.

The marine archaeologists will work using scuba gear and snorkelling, and want to find out how much of the Othello remains, the extent of the slipway and see if anything has been thrown overboard from the ships.

Almost all the personal effects of whalers in the base had been removed, he said.

Preserving the site did not mean condoning the slaughter of whales by the Norwegians, he said.

Records show the Ross Sea fleet - which would have included the ships from Stewart Island - killed 221 blue whales in the first season of operation alone.

It was important to remember what they had done, Dr Schmidt said: "If you don't preserve the sites, you are not preserving the story of the impact of humans on the environment. This is what people were doing, going to isolated areas, setting up bases, going down and killing lots of whales . . . it's part of our history."

The Southland Times