Hawai‘i’s whaling era began in 1819 when two New England ships became the first whaling ships to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands.
At that time, whale products were in high demand; whale oil was used for heating, lamps and in industrial machinery; whale bone was used in corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas and buggy whips.
Rich whaling waters were discovered near Japan and soon hundreds of ships headed for the area.
The central location of the Hawaiian Islands between America and Japan brought many whaling ships to the Islands.
Whalers needed food and the islands supplied this need from its fertile lands.
Whalers’ aversion to the traditional Hawaiian diet of fish and poi spurred new trends in farming and ranching. The sailors wanted fresh vegetables and the native Hawaiians turned the temperate uplands into vast truck farms.
There was a demand for fresh fruit, cattle, white potatoes and sugar. Hawaiians began growing a wider variety of crops to supply the ships.
In Hawaiʻi, several hundred whaling ships might call in season, each with 20 to 30 men aboard and each desiring to resupply with enough food for another tour “on Japan,” “on the Northwest,” or into the Arctic.
The whaling industry was the mainstay of the island economy for about 40 years. For Hawaiian ports, the whaling fleet was the crux of the economy. More than 100 ships stopped in Hawaiian ports in 1824.
The effect on Hawaiʻi’s economy, particularly in areas in reach of Honolulu, Lāhainā and Hilo, the main whaling ports, was dramatic and of considerable importance in the islands’ history.
Over the next two decades, the Pacific whaling fleet nearly quadrupled in size and in the record year of 1846, 736-whaling ships arrived in Hawai‘i.
Then, whaling came swiftly to an end.
In 1859, an oil well was discovered and developed in Titusville, Pennsylvania; within a few years this new type of oil replaced whale oil for lamps and many other uses – spelling the end of the whaling industry.
Although Hawai‘i’s commercial whaling is gone today, the humpback whales continue to visit the islands.
In the summer, humpbacks are found in high latitude feeding grounds in Gulf of Alaska in the Pacific where they spend the majority of the time feeding and building up blubber that they live off of in the winter.
From December to late-May, the humpback whales migrate to calving grounds in Hawaiian waters.
Humpback whales are the favorite of whale watchers, as they frequently perform aerial displays, such as breaching (jumping out of the water), or slap the surface with their pectoral fins, tails or heads.
The humpback whale is on the endangered species list, but efforts to protect them have increased their overall population.
In 1992, Congress created the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawai‘i. The sanctuary constitutes one of the world’s most important humpback whale habitats.
The image is a portion of an Engraving at Lahainaluna image(Courtesy of Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives,) overlooking Lāhainā from Lahainaluna in 1838. Note the many ships at anchor outside of Lāhainā – a center for the whaling industry in Hawaiʻi.
In addition, I have posted other images related to whaling in Hawaiʻi in a folder of like name in the images section of my Facebook page. (I tried to pick images that illustrate the whaling ships in ports – for some, if you look closely, you’ll see the masts of ships at anchor at the various ports.)