Sunday, November 23, 2008
(Photo: Old Whaling Station in Monterey in 2007 by beautifulcataya under a Creative Commons license.)
It wouldn't be acceptable as an alternative fuel today, but before oil was pumped from the ground, whale oil kept the lights of America burning, and provided jobs in Monterey. It was in the 1850s, after California became the 31st state of the United States and most of the workforce had scrambled to the gold fields in the Sierra Nevada. Immigrant whalers moved to Monterey to pursue their livelihood. One company took over an adobe house near Fisherman's Wharf for onshore operations, a place ever since known as The Old Whaling Station, now managed by the Junior League of Monterey County. The Monterey whalers killed 20 to 25 humpback and gray whales each year, boiled the oil out of their blubber, and shipped 800 to 1,000 barrels of whale oil to markets that paid up to $72 a barrel for the fuel. The market fell after 1880, when oil wells provided cheaper kerosene for lamps and lanterns. Whale oil dropped to about $8 a barrel by the end of the 19th century, and whaling stopped in Monterey.