Whales and Dolphins Driven Ashore

Why so Easy?

by Capt. David Williams


We have been collecting older reports of whales and dolphins driven ashore by men in small boats. The question we wish to address by this effort is whether the pods driven ashore by drive fisheries in Japan and the Faroe Islands are using their biosonar system to navigate or has a prior encounter with a series of pressure waves generated by a natural undersea upheaval destroyed their acoustic sense of direction. Our latest report is linked below:



1813 Oct 07:  The boats, at Mr. Moubray’s desire, made a circle round, in order to push them up the Devon: the manoeuvre succeeded; the other eight were driven up the Devon, to shallow water, where they were also killed, making total number killed there fifteen. There were two killed a little way off by some of Mr. Abercromby’s tenants, and other two went up before the steam boat to Striling, where they shared the same fate. On examining them minutely, they appear to be a species of the grampus, and seem more especially to agree with those described by Mr. Patrick Neill, in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia, called by the islanders of Orkney and Shetland, ca’ing whales, having several marks to distinguish them from the ordinary grampus; the nose has no turn up,the upper jaw is broader than the lower, they are from 15 to 21 feet long and from 10 to 14 feet in circumference, a large mouth, two beautiful seams of teeth of 48 in whole, black backs and white bellies, having each a large white oval spot nearly above the eye, the tail semilunar, and measures, from point to point in the largest, six feet; the dorsal fin about two feet in height, the tongue is flat, jagged at the edges and fastened below, the blubber about nine inches thick on the back.”

Caledonian Mercury, Edinburgh, Thur. 13 October 1814 (link)

1821 Jul 28:  Surprising take of whales; An Amazing number of whales have been taken on the coast of the country of Wexford. On Sunday last a large shoal of pilot whales stranded in the bay of Fethard. A few days later, 31 sperm whales ran on shore on Ballygeary strand near Ballyhire.  (link)

1861 Jul 12:  Whales and Dolphins Driven Ashore in and extraordinary capture at Benbecula, Tuesday evening, as the assistant surveyor on board H.M.’s surveying vessel Woodlark, at present stationed at Kallin, and two of the ship’s hands were proceeding to the Kallin Bay to spend an hour or two at hand-line fishing, they observed a large shoal of whales quite near them; they at once determine to have a more exciting sport than cod fishing, and accordingly pulled in the direction of the shoal, and got within ten or fifteen yards of them, when one of the men fired at a large one. The monster gave immediate signs of the ball having taken effect, for it plunged tremendously and made for the shore at full speed. All the rest following at an equal rate. (link)

1865 Jun 09:  VIETNAMESE MAN IS SAVED BY WHALE. A FISH EXTRAORDINARY AND AN EXTRAORDINARY STORY. The Courrier de Saigon of the 20th February last, “the journal official do la Cochin Chine Française,” publishes, with the utmost gravity, the following extraordinary tale of a big fish, ” very like a whale,” which we (Straits Times) reproduce, for the benefit and gratification of all lovers of the marvellous, the confusion of all sceptics, and for the attention and study of all naturalists. We translate from the Courrier as follows in 1862 an Annamite, insensible and covered with wounds, was found on the sandy beach of Caugion. When he recovered his senses he related that he was a passenger on board a barque which had been taken and pillaged by pirates, that the crew had been murdered and thrown overboard, that he had been only wounded and felt himself sustained on the water, by an enormous fish, which bore him gently to the shore. He asserted that he had a good look at his mysterious preserve, we slowly moved away after having placed him in safety.  In 1865 there was communicated to us the story of a native who said he had been saved from death by gigantic fish, and we then published his statement word for word. In a work called the Giad Dinh throng chi, which describes the six provinces of lower Cochin Chian, (link)

1869 Jul 23:  Whales and dolphins driven ashore in an EXTRAORDINARY CAPTURE— At about three o’clock, while Mr. G. F. Muntz on board in his yacht in Stornoway harbour said; I was awake by a loud noise of men shouting and hammering near the yacht. I went on deck immediately, when I observed a number of men in “three or four boats attempting to drive, a shoal of large fish (numbering perhaps 200) towards, the shore. The fish, which were, evidently of the whale species, were blowing and constantly rising to the surface of the water. They turned towards the sea, and were closely followed by the boats, which shortly turned them again towards the mouth of the harbour. The movement was repeated several times, and after a while some other boats well-manned appeared. The scene now became still more interesting, for the whales, being more hardly pressed, made a brilliant dash towards the sea, going away at a terrific pace in a straight course for the open water the speed appeared to be nothing less than 40 miles an hour, the water rising in misty foam as they cut their way through it. The course the whales were taking left little hope for the success of their pursuers, but coming upon a point of land which shoaled the water, a sudden turn to the right brought them again in the direction of the harbour an hour or two soon passed, and the fishermen of Stornoway, becoming aware of what was going on, began to join in the chase, and a dozen boats were soon in pursuit, the whales now making way for the distant part of the bay and, again baffled by the projecting points of land bending the course of the deep water, returned upon their pursuers again and again. It was now nearly 9 o’clock, and it appeared as if every human being in the town were bent on making the capture of so valuable a prize. Boats containing men, women, and children flocked to the scene of action, and soon 50 rowing and sailing boats were engaged in the chase, and as the rowers became exhausted by the tremendous exertion of long continued and fast rowing of heavy boats they were relieved by relays from the people on shore the numerous fishermen who first joined in the sport were replaced now by bakers, butchers, masons, carpenters, women, and children. The shops were closed and the town deserted and the hunt continued, 10, 11, 12, and 1 o’clock came, and, certainly, if the inhabitants of these islands are as persevering and as indefatigable always as they have proved themselves today, they deserve to be the most prosperous people in the world. Not an instant were the whales permitted to rest; continually harassed, from having been timid in the extreme when first attacked, they now became careless of their enemy, and allowed themselves to be struck by the oars as they rushed past the boats to escape from the various creeks into which they had been pressed. At 3 o’clock p.m. they were dislodged from a position which they had maintained for some hours in a distant part of the bay or outer harbour and were driven about a mile towards the inner harbour. Again they made several attempts to escape, but by an unlucky turn they rushed over shoal ground, and now the most exciting time of the day came. Maddened by the difficulty of moving in shallow water, the whales dashed frantically from side to side, raising the sea into violent breakers as though a gale had disturbed the water, rocking the small trading vessels to and fro as they approached. The boats now began to come up in numbers, the whales were blinded by the commotion they had created, thickening the shallow water. Having kept closely united during the whole day, the shoal now became divided they seemed, as it were, to become at once bewildered, and allowed themselves to be goaded by the boats to the shore, to be dispatched one by one by the fishermen.

I will not attempt to describe what is still going on suffice it to say that, as far as I can judge, and from the opinion of the fishermen, there will be at least 200 whales taken half that number are already killed, and as many more are safe within the harbour. The whales are. I believe, all of one kind, known as the bottlenose species they measure in length from 10ft to 21ft. The fishermen will make a great gain by this prize, and they well deserve. The chase from the first, until the whales were driven within the inner harbour, lasted upwards of IS hours, commencing at two o’clock a.m. and the first being killed soon after three p.m. It is said to be 17 years since a shoal of whales has entered this bay so far. The event of today has been the most exciting thing I have ever noon— a scene seldom witnessed, and one never to be forgotten.  (link) (no sense of direction)

1884 Nov 22:  A large school of blackfish was sighted off Wood End Light, Provincetown, in a few minutes a number of vessels and whaleboats, manned by able seamen, some of whom it proved had not lived a lifetime for a whaling community for naught. No sooner was blood drawn than there was a frenzy, and, as is the custom of the fish. all rushed in the direction of the wounded. A dozen, more or less, had been taken by sundown. It was hoped to drive them into Provincetown Bay, but this attempt was futile. On they sped, pursued and pursuers, the fleet increasing from all along shore, while the shoal diminished. Twenty miles was soon covered, and they were off Brewster, where they were met by a low tide. In place of being driven ashore, which was the object of the pursuers, the fish made a turn right about face along the beach. About sixty were here killed, and then they headed for Wellfleet Bay, and went in on a flood tide. This had covered about thirty-six hours, and on Monday morning there was a wonderful sight. The Bay was literally full of full of fish, further than the eye could reach. Vessels and boats of all sizes, kinds and descriptions, men and boys, representing every trade and profession, and every available thing that could be used for killing was there. Men of experience used harpoons and lances. Others used scythes, knives, picks, daggers, and axes. The shore was lined with carriages, carts, men, women and children. The whole town was in a flurry of excitement. All business ceased except the one business which was to “capture blackfish.” The work continued until Tuesday afternoon when it is supposed every fish was captured. Every town from Dennis to Provincetown was represented in the slaughter. The number is variously estimated at from 1200 to 1500, to be divided into 500 shares. The value will probably amount to $10,000 or $15,UOO.  (link)

1885 Nov 12:  Whales and dolphins driven ashore in the Faroe Islands. Hundreds of Monster of the Sea Killed by Hardy Islanders— The 12th of November was a red-letter day of the year on Suduroy, just as July 21 was in 1885 for the southernmost island of this bleak group. A flock or grind of whales was sighted off Vaag, on the almost inaccessible west coast of the island. The Solitary fishing-smack that sighted the flock made all haste to signal the important discovery to the inhabitants of the little settlement of Tamien by the usual expedient of hoisting a pair of trousers or an oil skin coat at the masthead, and the signal was no sooner observed ashore than fires were lighted on the hilltops and runners went from “bygd” to “bygd,” spreading the news and summoning the population to the shore. Leaving all other cares and concerns, they obeyed to a man or a woman for that matter, and made for the little bay at Tamien, where, if they did not escape, the grind would be driven ashore. The one word grind has power at any time to cause a break on the Faroe Islands, more than once coming on a sunday during church services. It has broken up the meeting in a general rush, headed by the parson, for the water, and no wonder, for the parish priest’s share of grind-catch may, if it is a good one, easily reach and even exceed $500, a sum not to be made every day up here in the shadow of the North Pole. But in this case the extra danger that the grind would escape, the bay at Tamien being notoriously the poorest “grind-place” on the island, lent additional speed to the rush, and nearly one-half of the 2,400 persons on the island–men, women and children–were soon en route for the settlement. Eighteen boats had come by sea, hardly a corporal’s guard, to contented with a big school of frightened whales, and lay in a wide half-circle outside the floe, as a barrier between it and the open sea, waiting for reinforcements. But the evening shades were falling and none were in sight. it was determined to risk an attack rather than take chances on having the school escape under cover of the boats and ascertained that each had its full armament of whale harpoons, strong two-edged knives fixed on six-foot sticks, the signal was given and the start made amid general anxiety on shore where and ever-increasing throng, armed with knives, were waiting to take part in the slaughter. Probably no reader of a New York newspaper ever witnessed a “grindedral,” i. e., grind killing. Indeed, it would be strange if any of them bad, for the Faroe Islands are apparently the only places favored with the periodical visits of these monstrous ocean travelers, or where the people know enough to take advantage of their calls. The grind whale (pronounced grin) attains a length of fully fifty feet. It is a social creature and never travels alone, like its still larger brethren, but is found in schools from a hundred to several thousands. Yet these are believed  to be merely stray parties detached from the main body that is supposed to range the ocean within the Arctic circle. Be this as it may, upon these visits that are too often, like angel’s visits, few comforts the Faroe Islander enjoys; in seasons of poor barely and potato crops, even life itself. A good grind-catch assures the islanders of plenty of meat for the long, dark winter. Grind meat, though coarse to the palate brought up on porter-house steak and South-down mutton, is a royal treat to a hungry native of these high regions, and salted down, will keep as long as there is any left. The oil will keep the Faering’s lamp lighted in the long evenings when fog and storms rule the sea; what is left to sell will buy him clothes to keep him warm, and a bright’ kerchief or ribbon at the government store for the women to smarten up with. The head alone of a full grown grind yields from fifty to eighty quarts of oil, worth from $5 to $8 at the stores. Hence, no wonder that message that a grind had been sighted turns the fortunate island upside down, and sets everything that had legs to run with piling for the shore. as many boats as are handy or can be drummed up within a distance of then or dozen miles are sent around by water to join in the attack, for the battle with the whales is essentially a naval engagement.They form in a half-circle outside the school, after driving it toward the mouth of the nearest convenient bay or “vig,” and, starting simultaneously toward the shore, chase the whales before them with loud yells and splashing of stones, that form a chief part of the armament of all Faroese fishing smacks liable to meet with grind. The timid monster run about, vainly seeking to escape through the land, and finally ground in shallow water or rush in their distress through the breakers clear up on the beach, where the rest of the population wait for them with their murderous two edged knives.

The school at Tamien proved to embrace nearly 300 whales, of which a score or more made their escape through an unguarded point in the open line of boats and put for the deep. The rest of the school was about following like a flock of a sheep led by the bell-wether, but at the critical moment a well-directed stone hit the ugly black snout of the forward one and made it turn toward land in great haste. From that moment the battle was decided. An hour later the waters in the little vig were dyed red with blood of the mighty beasts. Once aground in shallow water, the whales gave up all other resistance than to aimlessly thrash the sea with their tails. The islanders kept completely out of the way of the powerful fins. Rushing deep, those on shore joined their friends in the boats in the wild carnival of murder. Slashing the struggling captives over the neck, just back of the head, with their keen-edged knives, they cut them to the backbone and left them to bleed to death. The struggling, surging, madly shouting mass in the reddened sea formed a singular picture in the sunset. As the dying agony of one whale after another ceased, and the monster rolled lifeless on the water, rescuing parties on the beach drove stout iron hooks into the eyes of the dead and hauled them up on the shore out of reach of the tide, where the body was left lying till the next day, when the division could take place. When all had been landed, it was within an hour of midnight, and the exhausted islanders had worked since early in the afternoon, for a great part of the time in water and blood up to their necks. But 268 big whales lay dead on the beach, a bigger catch than Suduroy had seen for more than two years, and no one felt too tired to join in the dance that followed, with copious portions of schnaps and no end of merriment. The fortunate “bygd” where a grind-killing takes places is under legal and moral obligations to treat all comers at its conclusion. The singing of the grind song, a sort of heroic epic of forty verses describing the hardships, the dangers and the rewards of grind-killing, is a ceremony that on no account is omitted on these occasions, and it was not then. When it was over those who had not already rolled under the table, overcome by the combined effects of the physical exhaustion and the schnaps, lay down to sleep of the hard boards in their wet clothes without fear of catching cold. Bright and early next morning they were up to attend the division of the spoils. The news of the killing had brought additional crowds from all pats of the little island every human being on which was entitled to his share. The Faroe Islands are divided into grind districts, with especial reference to the whale catch. Suduroy is a district by itself, and its 2,400 inhabitants, including the newborn baby in her cradle, were to share in the spoils. There would seem to be some injustice in the allotment that gives to one living miles away, who had no share in the work and in the hardships of the killing, an equal share with the few who bore it all. But no one growls. It was thus arranged centuries ago, and the next grind grab may give the other fellows a chance. but there are priviledge sharers. First of all, the discoverer of the flock, who gets the bigging whale.” Next comes the “damage whale,” that is to pay for any destruction wrought to apparatus in the catch; then the tithing whale for the parson. Lucky parson! Once can imagine with what fervor he put in a weekly petition, along with his prayer for the royal family King Christian, for favoring storms to beguile grind within sight of shore. The owner of the ground where the school was driven ashore picks the next-the “ground whale”- as his tax, and not until then comes the turn of the common herd who have done all the work. Often little more than five eighths are left to be thus shared, still, even that is worth taking along. The commercial value of the present catch was say about 20,000 kroner, or something like $5,000; its value as grub, of course, much greater. There have been occasions when as much as 1,000 or 1,100 whales have been taken Just now there is joy on all Sunderoe. Every kettle on the island steams with what to a Faroe nose is the most savory odor on earth. Well, tastes differ.  (link)

1891 Jun 21:  A Vessel Kill a Monster Whale–Three bold and sportive razor-backed whales, zoologically known as Narwhals, were seen returning from an excursion southward to their Arctic home on Sunday morning last by the men on the pilot-boat Actaca. The giant of the merry trio never got there. His corpse, with a great gash in the back, was passed floating in the Gulf Stream by the Anchor Line steamship Caledonia. When the Caledonia’s captain took Pilot Keeley of the Actaca aboard on Thursday he heard how the big whale came to his death. The Actaca was about 350 miles east of this port on Sunday, cruising for incoming vessels. Just after dark the three whales were observed by the Actaca’s helmsman. They were the liveliest whales the helmsman ever saw, and he has seen many. They mashed the choppy sea into shreds with their flukes, making a noise like the impact of big paddle-wheels on the water. On they rushed in a smother of foam right for the bow of the Actaca. The boat struck one of the trio. The shock was so violent that every man aboard was awakened. Instantly there was another and greater shock. The whale gave the boat a mighty slap with his fluke as he disappeared in a blood-tinged mass of froth. The death-stricken whale, followed by his comrades, was seen for half an hour lashing the water into crimson-tinted foam. ref: San Francisco Call, Volume 70, Number 21, 21 June 1891 (link) (non-navigating)

1891 Nov 27:  THE SHIP STRUCK A WHALE — Many on the Ethiopia Thought Their Last Day Had Come. The Anchor Line steamship Ethiopia was 800 miles east of Sandy Hook on a beautiful November day. The sun glistened upon the smooth, unruffled sea. The forty cabin passengers who had been storm-tossed prisoners during the preceding eight days of the voyage were promenading the decks. At 10:45 o’clock Captain Wilson and Second Officer Fife were on the bridge keeping a close watch ahead. Suddenly a spouting monster came to the surface of the almost placid ocean. It was directly in the path of the ship and only a few feet ahead. The ship was rushing toward the monster at the rate of sixteen miles an hour. “it’s a whale!” shouted the second officer. There was no time to check the vessel’s speed. Almost before the astonished officers realized it the ship’s sharp iron prow crashed into the snorting, puffing finback. The blow was a square, incisive one. the ship seemed to sail right through the whale which disappeared almost immediately, leaving a trail of crimson as far as the eye could see. Ref: San Francisco Call, Volume 70, Number 180, 27 November 1891  (link)

1892 Sep 17:  Recent storms along the coast has driven great numbers dogfish ashore. This is a sign that blackfish (pilot whales) may soon follow the dogfish ashore. Fishermen who are coming into port report having seen large numbers of the killer whale off the Massachusetts coast. As the blackfish are a prey of the killer whale. there is no doubt that blackfish may soon show up. Probably there has never been a year in which blackfish have not been washed up along Cape Cod and Nantucket. In 1870, 119 of them were driven ashore at Dennis, on Cape Cod, in one day. They are enormous fish averaging from 15 to 18 feet in length. The weight of a blackfish 15 feet long is from 800 to 1,000 pounds, and the average yield from a fish of that size as five barrels of oil. the yield in oil varying from ten gallons to ten barrels. It is dark in color and is classed with ordinary whale oil. The blubber of the fish is from one to four inches thick and nearly white. A time quality of machine oil is yielded from the jaws of the blackfish and is known in the trade as porpoise jaw oil.  The current driving dogfish ashore might also drive lost blackfish ashore. Very Interesting. (link)

1895 Jun 15: Whale Hunting by Thule.

A fine autumn morning in the Shetland Islands. I was awakened by a shout of whales! whales! whales! The shout is carried from lip to lip for miles across the country in an incredibly short time. Jumping out of bed I dressed as quickly as possible, and when I got outside could see three flags flying from the flagstaff on the lighthouse on Sumburgh Head—a spot made famous by Sir Walter Scott’s novel, The Pirate—a signal that the whales are to be seen off that headland. Men and boys can be seen running in the direction of “West Voe,” the nearest point where a boat can be launched to go in pursuit. When Sandy Anderson (who was even known to go so far as to reprove his children for breaking the Lord’s Day with their bare feet) was brought up before the Kirk Session for going to drive whales on Sunday, his only defense was that he saw “Johnny running and so he ran, too.” There is something electrifying in the shout of whales to the crofter or fisherman, who has visions of a few luxuries, or perhaps a few pounds towards the rent of his craft. So, like Sandy, he thinks not of the order of his going, but goes at once.

I join a group of men close by, who are discussing the wisdom of carrying a boat by hand overland to the bay, a distance of about three miles. This course being decided on, the oars are hurriedly put into the boat, and having distributed ourselves round her, we pick her up and start off at a good round trot. In little more than half an hour we are on the beach, having stopped but a moment to change sides. There we find that we have been wise in bringing our boat, as the last available one is just leaving the shore.

A few buckets fall of small stones are hastily gathered from the beach and put into the boat, and, as we push off, a rush is made by the small but increasing crowd of men on the beach, to get a place in the boat, and one or two succeed in rolling in over the gunwale. The only condition attached to any person sharing in the haul is that they must be afloat and outside of the shoal when the first whale is stranded. The methods used to this end are often both amusing and ludicrous, rafts frequently, and the family washing tub occasionally being brought into use.

After an hour’s hard pulling we succeed in getting clear of the bay. Then, by standing up, we can just get a glimpse of the whales, a heaving tumbling mass, their black silken coats sparkling in the sun. These whales are known as the “bottle nose” or caaing whales, and vary in length from 20ft to 35ft. Like sheep, they always follow a leader, and if he becomes stranded, the whole shoal are almost sure to follow suit.

I have seen between 500 and 600 of these whales stranded on a beach at one time, and I understand that on the same day no less than 1100 were once driven ashore on these islands.

The whales appear to be about a mile and a half away in a south-easterly direction, and just outside of the shoal are about 50 or 60 boats spread out in crescent form. All is excitement now, no need to tell the oarsmen to pull—our boat is simply flying over the water. Meanwhile the whales, which for some little time appeared to be moving very slowly, are observed to dart forward almost directly towards us, followed quickly as possible by the fleet of boats, and in a few minutes we are in the midst of them.

It is always necessary to select a harbor or bay with a smooth or sandy beach on which to strand whales, and the bay we have just left is the nearest and most suitable for the purpose, being almost landlocked, with a channel three or four hundred yards wide, so that the last movement of the whales is in the right direction, but as a rule they are more ready to go in the wrong than in the right.

For a time there is a slight shoreward movement. Suddenly they break through the line of boast, and there is a rapid flight of the shoal back again over the ground which a short time before they had passed and a race of the entire fleet to get ahead of them. It is hard and exciting work but at last they are turned again towards the bay. We are now in Sumburgh Roost, a spot known as one of the world’s giant tide ways. The tide that has just commenced to run in a westerly direction, is beginning to be felt by the boats’ crews, and perhaps by the whales themselves for they seem a little inclined to go with it. The boats close in, and form almost a half-circle, into the fold in which the whales are collected.

The chase now commences in earnest, showers of stones and other missiles are pelted at those in the rear, while the shouts of the men, the blowing of fog horns, and the thumping of the oars in the rowlocks are almost deafening.

Again and again the floating phalanx is broken, the boats advancing and retreating by turns. Every time the whales rise to the surface, or attempt to turn, they are met a perfect storm of stones. In the center of the shoal a whale can be seen plunging about with a spear, having a wooden handle about 3 feet long, sticking out of its back.

There is no need to pull for the tide is running like a mill race behind us. The only danger seems to be, that we may over shoot the mark, and pass the entrance to the bay. A minute or two will decide now. The boats on the left of the crescent make a sharp forward movement, there are a few anxious moments, then a great cheer arises, as the whole shoal are forced right into the channel.

The boats now form a line right across the bay, and the whales are pressed more than ever. Stones, harpoons, and spears are thrown at the flying mass; quickly they are driven over a sandy bar, which extends partly across the bay, and into the shallow water. Nearly in line with the advancing whales, a plucky whale hunter is seen afloat on a log of wood. Owning to the log being round, he is forced to lie of his stomach and balance it with the greatest nicety to keep it from toppling over. The gravity of finding himself in this trying, if not perilous, position upsets both him and the log, to which although underneath, he slings desperately until picked up by one of the nearest boats.

It is considered they cannot now escape, and, while congratulations are going around, the report of a rifle from the land is heard above the uproar, and the ball strikes one of the advancing whales. There is a yell of rage from a hundred throats, as the leading fish is seen to turn seaward, for it is recognized that should they once get outside there would be little chance of overtaking them. We are now in the first real danger, for there is scarcely room for them to pass under the boats. We hold our breath as they charge towards us, their pathway white with foam. The boats are seen to rock as with an earthquake. One boat is thrown on to its side, while its crew simply roll into the water, and one individual for a few seconds is seen to be astride on the back of a whale. There is a look of disappointment on every face as they watch the retreating foe. But the unexpected always happens. A few boats, unable to follow as quickly as the others, their crews being exhausted from pulling about from early morning, had passed through and were just inside the entrance to the bar channel. They made a gallant effort to stem the retreat, and whether their efforts are partially successful, or whether the whales being blinded and half chocked by the sand, missed the channel, the shoal takes a sweep round, and before anyone can realize what has happened four hundred and seventy whales lie floundering and stranded on the beach.

And now the slaughter commences, and one cannot look on without feelings of emotion, the occasional cry of a calf for its mother being quite pitiful to hear. One or two men from each boat, armed with lances, the blades of which are about 30 inches in length, and having long wooden handles jump into the water, and at great personal risk drive their lances into the whale. They have to exercise the greatest caution to avoid being disabled, not only by the whale on which they are operating, but by those lying around. Long after the last whale has been dispatched, the sea presents a troubled and bloody appearance for at least a hundred yards from the shore.

For a few days following the capture the beach continues to wear a busy aspect. The carcasses are pulled clear of the water by means of ropes, and when they are flensed the blubber is gathered into heaps and carted away. The blubber taken from the caaing whale is of a good oil-producing kind, and a substantial sum was realized by its sale, the proceeds being divided amongst the hunters, boys taking a fraction of a man’s share, varying according to age.

Until within the last few years the landlord used to claim a third of the proceeds of the sale of any whales driven ashore on the beach opposite his property. But the men, believing his claim to be an unjust one, refused to pay the same, and the matter was fought out in the law courts, finally resulting in a verdict in favor of the men. The landlord now is only allowed to claim for any damage caused to his property through trespass.

Numurkah Leader, Victoria, Australia – Saturday 15 June 1895, Page 4

1895 Jul 03:  STRANDED WHALES. Sydney-Owing to the westerly gales, twenty-seven whales, averaging 30ft, were stranded at Kaiapara Heads (N.Z.).  (link)

1896 Apr 18: Captain Hunter swung the Umatilla around on a bee line with the sleeping monster and rang down to the engine-room for full speed. The Umatilla answered quickly and was soon leaping through the water toward the leviathan. A moment later and the vessel struck the whale, and for about ten seconds there was oil poured on troubled waters. The passengers felt the lurch of the craft and rushed on deck in time to see the two ends of the half-severed mammal dangling at the prow of the steamer. The force of the blow had not driven the steamer entirely through the whale, and, in preference to pushing the remains into Victoria, Captain Hunter backed away from it. Then it could be seen that the whale was one of the humpback variety, over fifty feet in length. Several camera “fiends” were aboard, and secured good negatives of the unusual sight. There were four passengers on deck at the time the whale was struck, but it did not take long for all to get there. The bump against the sleeping monster sent soup and tea flying in all directions in the dining-room, and it looked for a time as though there was going to be a panic. Everything quieted down as soon as the passengers were informed of the cause of the shock. Ref: San Francisco Call, Volume 79, Number 140, 18 April 1896  Was the whale sleeping or frozen in panic, unable to tell which way to swim to avoid being hit? (link)

1897 Mar 20:  STRANDING OF WHALES AT THE FALKLAND ISLANDS. According to the following graphic letter, which we take from the London “Field,” the Falkland Islands must be a lively spot: In the end of September 1896, an enormous school of a species of whale, called the Casting whale, ran ashore in Teal Inlet. Teal Inlet is a small creek, one and a half miles long, opening into Port Salvador, which in turn opens into the South Atlantic by a very narrow opening. It was my good fortune to see some hundreds of these whales on the beach at the time of my visit. I rode over from Stanley, the capital, through most desolate scenery, mile after mile over quaking bog and morass, over mountain and stream, and across arms of the sea. Along the side of moraines of recent glaciers, not a tree, not a field, not a house, not a man seen, only two wire fences in eight and a-half hours’ ride. And so to Teal Inlet, where there is a settlement, and where my host lived who managed an estate the size of the county of Rutland.  (link)

1899 Jul 01:   The inhabitants of Thurso, in the far north of Scotland are at present undergoing a curious, if unpleasant, experience. The other day, during a strong wind, over one hundred bottle-nosed whales, were stranded along the sands close to the town. Ref: San Francisco Call, Volume 86, Number 32, 2 July 1899 (link)

1900 Apr 27:  A school of over 100 whales Is now in Monterey Bay and very near shore, presenting one of the most wonderful sights ever seen hereabouts. Fishermen say that the cause of this visitation is that the very high winds of the past three days have driven sardines, on which whales feed chiefly, in immense numbers inside the harbor, and the whales have followed their prey. Old whalers are authority for the statement that so great a number of whales at one time have not been seen hereabout for over thirty years. Ref:  San Francisco Call, Volume 87, Number 159, 28 April 1900  (link)

1900 Oct ??:  During October, according to the news received here to-day from Australia, a volcano on Beach Island, one of the New Britain group, recently became active and caused great upheaval on land and under sea. A number of natives who went out to gather the fish killed by the shock were drowned. Thirty-two distinct shocks of earthquake were felt. Ref: San Francisco Call, Volume 87, Number 183, 30 November 1900  (link)

1902 Jan 12:  It’s a remarkable fact that out of six really well authenticated instances where whales have collided with the hulls of vessels, four have occurred along the Pacific coast. In seven instances where whales have been washed ashore, at least three, and perhaps four, of these mighty mammals have belonged to that gigantic species known as the “sulfur bottom,” the hugest of existing mammals and probably the superior in size of every other creature, living or extinct, that has ever breathed upon the surface of the globe. Four of these stranded whales have rushed upon the beach or have been thrown there by the waves within a distance of twenty-six miles. Whales are becoming scarcer every year. Even where these great creatures are not hunted for commercial purposes and are not harassed by the vicious thresher shark they have given way before an aggressive civilization of the ocean. ref: Los Angeles Herald, Number 103, 12 January 1902  (link)

1906 Sep 05:  Two earthquakes are reported from the island that no damage was done. After one of the shocks, hundreds of dead fish were thrown up on the beaches. Apparently they had been scalded to death by a submarine eruption. The earthquakes were not felt on Oahu the island on which Honolulu is situated. Ref: Los Angeles Herald, Volume 33, Number 341, 6 September 1906  (link)

1906 Sep 11:  Fish and Food Inspector J.M. Hering Hilo reports that quantities of dead fish of many kinds, including large eels that live near the bottom of the sea and other deep-water varieties. The eyes of the fish were coated with white as if they had been in contact with hot water or very strong salt Fluid. Squid divers at Sea Connect reported to Hering on the same day that the water was unusually warm, and this in connection with the appearance of the fish, leads Hering to believe that they may have been killed by submarine volcanic action connected with slight earthquake shock felt two days previously at Hilo.  ref: San Francisco Call, Volume 100, Number 110, 18 September 1906  (link)

1907 May 27:  A large school of enormous whales played along the shore in front of this city all day today. They migrated back and forth from Devil’s gate to Terminal Island. About 2 o’clock this afternoon they were near the pier and afforded considerable amusement for the “crowd of tourists and fisher-folk on the outer wharf. Early this morning five of the whales drifted upon the beach near Devil’s gate, where they remained for nearly an hour. Nearly all of the whales were forty feet long: At times they leaped almost entirely out of the water. Ref: Los Angeles Herald, Volume 34, Number 239, 28 May 1907  (link)

1908 Jul 12:  On her westward trip, the liner St. Louis raced with a monster whale about 100 feet long. Pausing ahead of the liner, which was hitting up a smart pace, the whale miscalculated the ship’s speed. It turned to sound and was struck as it was about to dive. The monster lay diagonally to the course of the steamer and the ship shuddered from the shock. The whale was instantly cut in two, the sections floating astern along the starboard aide, and the starboard propeller, hitting the head section, chopped out a 10-ton chunk of blubber. The sea was dyed with blood. Was this whale deafened? (link)

1911 Feb 23:  BIG SCHOOL OF WHALES. A private telegram received in Melbourne on Tuesday stated that a school of whales, 37 in number has been stranded on Parkin Island.  (link)

1917 July 17:  A STRANDED WHALE, Mount Gambier, July 16 a whale, measuring 30 ft in length and from 8 to 10 ft in girth is ashore opposite Cape Banks lighthouse. It was noticed on Saturday in difficulties in the shallows, and this morning Mr. G.A. Payne, head keeper. and several assistants succeeded in landing the monster. Life was extinct and the carcass was torn from end to end as the result of attacks by sharks.  (link)

1919 Sep 01:   Suddenly the sea became alive with virile beings–curving steel-gray bodies that shot forth like torpedoes from some mighty battery. I thrilled In every fiber, and the sloth of the tropics fell from me as by a galvanic shock. The dolphins had come! Usually, they appear In their haunts between Dominica and Martinique, but here they were in dozens, leaping for breath with the regularity of machinery. Now and then, in a spirit of play, one of them vaulted high in the air, ten feet above the surface, twisted and fell broadside with a slap that could be heard half a mile away. A school came close alongside, slackened speed to that of the vessel, and now and then dived beneath and appeared off the opposite quarter. Another trick was for one or two to station themselves just ahead of the bow and to remain there motionless. urged on by the pressure of the water from behind. It was unexpected and splendid to have this battalion of magnificent cetaceans, bursting with vital energy and fullness of life. Injected without warning into the calm quiet of this tropic sea. Ref: Red Bluff Daily News, Number 257, 1 September 1919. (Dolphins often play with ships.)  (link)

1929 Feb 19:  Several sharks ventured into shallow water at Dee why in pursuit of a whale they had attacked in the morning and which was stranded on the beach. The whale, which was about 10 feet long, was chummed into shallow water by the sharks which had inflicted deep wounds on their victim. Several men secured a line and fastening it onto the whale. hauled it onto the beach: but they subsequently towed it back into the water to be kept alive until a lorry arrived with a crane to take it to the zoo.  (link)

1929 May 09:  Extraordinary scenes were witnessed at Lerwick, Shetland, on a recent Sunday, when a big school of English pilot whales entered the harbour and remained all day. The school, estimated to number 500, came close inshore, and after swimming along both sides of the harbour assembled in deep water in the centre. Hundreds of people in motor launches obtained an excellent close-up view. The whales were so densely packed that they collided with each other when diving. The school always followed a large whale, acting as leader. They were still in the harbour at nightfall, but had disappeared next day.  (link)

1930 Jun 19:  The opinion was expressed yesterday by Mr. D.G. Stead that the huge fish, 32 in all which threw themselves up on the beaches at Suva as if to escape a big shark attack were “blackfish” whales from the description given by the “herald” correspondent. Mr. Stead said there was little doubt that they were creatures of this description. They were really a larger species of dolphins or smaller toothed whales, of which the largest was the sperm whale. Like the sperm, they lived upon cuttlefish or squid. There were many records throughout the world of these creatures being stranded. in some cases many hundreds at the one time. The “blackfish” whales grew to a length of from 20 to 30 feet and had a very high headed and large arm-like fins. They had been stranded on various parts of the Australian coast, but he had not heard of the occurrence in New South Wales. In the case in question, it was apparent that they had been chased by sharks.  (link)

1935 Oct 15:  THREAT TO HEALTH OF TOWN A TASMANIAN PROBLEM LAUNCESTON— Hundreds of whales ranging from 10 to 30 feet long, most of them dead or dying, were washed up on the beach and stranded near the town of Stanley. There was a rush to “stake claims,” but it was discovered that the mammals were black pilot whales, which are of no commercial value, and the problem now is how to get rid of them. The townspeople have telegraphed a request for help to the Government, which has decided that immediate action must be taken to protect the health of the residents of Stanley. A health officer has been ordered to the spot to devise means of disposing of the invaders. Whales have been stranded in the same locality before, but not in such great numbers.  (link)

1935 Oct 17:  STRANDED WHALES. TASMANIAN SPECTACLE. Nearly 300 High and Dry. HOBART. A school of nearly 300 whales thought to be of the pilot species and varying in length from 4ft.to 25ft., and up to 12ft. in girth, stranded at Tatlow’s Beach, about a mile east of Stanley, early this morning. When first sighted, at daybreak, they were lying on a sand spit between the shore and East Inlet, half-way between the high and low tide. They were herded together in an area of about one acre. The noise they made was described by some residents as bellowing and by others as whistling. The scene was visited by hundreds of persons from all parts of Circular Head district, Wynyard, and as far afield as Burnie, 50 miles away. Various theories to account for the appearance of the whales have been advanced. It being a calm night, with a light southerly wind, it seems probable that the school entered the harbour, came to the sandbanks and, getting into the shallow water, stampeded and were soon high and dry. Another theory is that the school followed fish, but fishermen state that there were no fish in the channel yesterday. Sickness has been suggested as a reason for the visit, but the school showed no outward signs of injuries apart from scratches which apparently were teeth marks, inflicted on one another by the whales in their frantic efforts to escape into the deeper water.  (link)


The mysterious impulse that drives a certain species of whale — the False killer — to commit “mass suicide” on the shore is discussed in the article by Lawrence G. Green, who refers to recent strandings of whales in Tasmania.

Some time ago hundreds of whales, on a beach 50 miles northwards up the coast from Cape Town, came in suddenly through the breakers, leaping over the rocks in a determined dash. Those that survived the battering threw themselves on and on, until they reached the sand. Not one tried to return to open sea. They made tremendous efforts to jump over all obstacles. A farmer who witnessed the scene said something seemed to drive them on shore.

The death agony of the False Killer Whales is a sight to remember indeed. It is a thing no scientist can explain. In spite of its name, the False Killer is a true whale — miniature perhaps, but a mammal that belongs to the great family of cetacea. False Killers, like pilot whales and killers, may be classed with the dolphin group. The differences between the killer and the false killer is that the killer is
conspicuously marked with creamy patches over the eye and along the flank. The false killer is black all over. Both species have formidable teeth. These are to be expected in the killer, which attacks larger whales and tears away the blubber for food.

In the False Killer, feeding on cuttlefish and squids, such large teeth are remarkable. In 1927, a hundred False Killers were stranded on the coast of Scotland. Up to that time the species had been thought to be extinct, though a fossilised skull had been found. Since then, False Killer whales have been racing to death on beaches as far apart as South Africa, Zanzibar, and Tasmania.

The “mass suicide,” as it has been termed, has become more important than the whales themselves.

On Christmas Eve, 1928, about a hundred flung themselves on to the white, sandy beach at Kommetjie, near the Cape of Good Hope. There are no rocks on this part of the coast, and the whales reached the shore uninjured, many of them remaining alive for several days until they died of starvation. Some females bore young ones on the beach. Kindly people tried to save the lives of a few of the smaller whales — six and seven footers— by carrying them back to the sea and guiding them towards deep water. The whales would have none of it. No sooner did they recover the use of their powerful bodies than they returned once more to the beach.


The Tasmanian stranding occurred only a few weeks before the second visit of the False Killers to South Africa. There were about three hundred whales in the Tasmanian school. The False Killers revealed no signs of illness. They were not cast ashore by heavy weather; it was a calm night with no wind.

Details of the Zanzibar stranding are lacking, save for the cabled story that the whales arrived in such numbers that “they covered a small coral islet.” The first and most obvious theory is the possibility of the leader of the school, finding itself in surf or shallow water, losing its head, and leading a flurried rush in the wrong direction. I tested this by walking south from Grotto beach in search of more whales. I found one lying far up on a sandy beach a full mile from the rest of the school. The same instinct, or misfortune, had brought this lone creature to death. It was plain that it had followed no leader and that it had not been swept there by the tide.


I talked to the fishermen of the coast. Could the whales have been frightened by some larger or more terrible sea animal? No, they had seen nothing, there was nothing to ‘ scare a whale out of the sea.

An interesting idea, linking the two South African strandings, with this: the sea once covered large areas of the Cape Peninsula, including both the narrow neck of land at Kommetjie, and the low coast where Grotto beach lies. Were the leaders of the two lost schools seeking an old passage, an ancient sea route followed by the schools of long ago? Whales do not find their way round the world by chance. They live for hundreds of years, they learn, and they pass on their knowledge as an instinct to their young. The idea of a navigating sense which happened to lead to disaster cannot be entirely ignored. It was suggested that a submarine earthquake or upheaval might have thrown the whales on shore. But on such occasions millions of fish have been destroyed and left on the beaches. At Kommetjie, and again at Grotto, there were no signs of submarine disturbance, and no dead fish.

Dr. Leonard Gill Inclined towards a “follow my leader” theory, though he stated frankly that science cannot even guess at a reasonable explanation. He recalled the method of catching pilot whales in the Orkney Islands. When a herd approached the fishermen tried to drive one or two into a shallow bay; If they were successful the whole herd followed. Whales once lived on land; the finner whale still displays rudimentary knuckles and finger bones. If we say the False Killers were returning to the earth we may be as near the truth as any baffled marine biologist.  (The Telegraph, Brisbane, Queensland Wednesday 3 June 1936, Page 14)




1937 Apr 06:  WHALES COMMIT SUICIDE Scientists in Cape Town are again puzzled by the mass suicide of a school of false killer whales reported from Stompneus, on the coast about 100 miles north of Table Bay. About 35 whales, males and females, with one calf, dashed themselves in frenzy over a jagged reef and landed up in the undergrowth above high-water mark. The whales were terribly cut about by the sharp rocks in their struggles, and some of them even broke there teeth on the rocks.  (link)

1937 Jul 26:   TRAPPED BY TIDE, THESE COUSIN OF THE WHALE MEET DEATH ON BEACH For the past two decades, blackfish, huge first cousin to the whale. have been a downright nuisance on Cape Cod bay shores. Literally committing suicide as they chased small food fish into shallow flats. They gasped out their lives in the hot Summer sun. And then the boards of health had to step in and dispose of the remains. (link)

1937 Aug 4:  Farmer Finds 51 Whales Stranded 3. Mr. J. Burke, farmer and grazier, of Stanley, the occupier of Perkins Island, at the mouth of Duck crossed to the island on Saturday on horseback at low tide and found 51 whales stranded there. Same of the whales were still alive, but he considered there was no chance of their getting away.  (link)

1946 Aug 22:  The big school of blackfish whales stranded on the shore near Port Albert, Australia raises an old problem, for what it is that leads apparently healthy whales to destruction on beaches all over the world has long been a mystery. About 20 years ago 150 false killer whales were stranded in the Dornoch Firth and there was also a mass stranding on the Lincolnshire coast not long ago. The suggestion that the Dornoch Firth whales were chasing herring schools and ran ashore had some local support, but some students of the whale suggested that an unexplained suicidal urge had driven the entire school onto the beach. In South Africa, where immense numbers of stranded false killers are found, noticed that the whales while still alive make no effort to get back into the sea. In fact. several “killers” forcibly dragged into the water by bystanders hurled themselves ashore again. The theory that the whales may have been stunned by a subterranean upheaval and loss of sense of direction has been considered and dismissed. but there is some support for the suggestion that the whales may have been following a leader who lost his sense of direction.  (link)

1947 Mar 13:  About 18 small whales from 12 to 20 feet long became stranded at the little beach. Redhead, this morning. Late this afternoon 12 whales. including three dead, were still stranded on the beach, several others had been torn to pieces by sharks and two or three successfully manhandled had swum out to sea. Surf club members and local residents during the day used oars to push the whales back into the water. Many swam out a fair distance but then turned and were again stranded. Others were attacked by sharks, which came within 20 feet of the shore. Local school pupils benefited when their teacher took them to the beach and gave a first-hand lesson on whales. The Superintendent of Fisheries, Mr. T. C. Roughley, commented that the whales were probably of the “blackfish” species, which were found not uncommonly on Tasmanian beaches.  (link)

1953 Feb 2: Stranded whale at Burnie. An 18 ft. 6 inch beaked whale one of two driven ashore at West Beach, Burnie, by sharks on Saturday morning attracted much interest during the weekend. The other a smaller type, was assisted back into the sea, but was again attacked by sharks and has not been seen since. The beaked whale was stranded on the rocks and bore evidence of its fight with the sharks. It was about 10 ft. in girth and its snout measured 20 in. from the tip of the jaw to an angle of its mouth.  (link)


1970 Jan 13:  About 150 pygmy sperm whales, possibly befuddled by the cold, have beached and died along an eight-mile stretch between here and Vero Beach. “I’m afraid it’s a matter of disposal rather than rescue,” said conservation patrol Lt. Ron Purdom after a day-long struggle Sunday to save the midget whales. Ref: Desert Sun, Number 137, 13 January 1970  (link)

1977 Feb 07:  Six pilot whales died in a mass beaching Sunday and rescuers struggled today to save another 25 left stranded in shallow waters. Officers from the Florida Marine Patrol kept vigil on the six whales, hosing them with water, covering them with wet blankets and turning them over to help the marine mammals breathe. Officers feared the whales remaining on the beach would be difficult to move until today’s high tide and that other whales pushed out to sea Sunday might attempt to return to shore.
Ref:  Desert Sun, 7 February 1977  (link)

1977 Feb 08:  Biologist Seek whale Answer of why do whales commit mass suicide by hurling themselves onto beaches, repeating their death surge to shore even when hauled back to deep water by human rescuer?” About 150 pilot whales beached themselves in Fort George Inlet in follows the leader fashion Sunday and Monday. Among the possible explanations advanced by scientists for the whales’ behavior was that their directional sonar that steers them away from danger, somehow went awry.  (see next to last paragraph)