The building known as the Old Whaling Station was originally built in 1847 by Scottish adventurer David Wight as a home for his wife and daughter.
The Wights lived in the home for a short time before leaving to explore the California gold fields. In 1855, the Old Monterey Whaling Company purchased the building and converted it into the headquarters for their whaling operations and an employee residence.
The whaling company ran an “on-shore” operation, in which whales were killed at sea and towed to shore for processing. The fat, or “blubber,” was rendered by heating it in large iron pots to extract natural oil which could be used to lubricate machinery or burned in lamps to provide light. Baleen, the bony filter found in the mouths of filter-feeding whales such as grays and humpbacks, was used in corsets and umbrellas. The bones were ground up for fertilizer or used as paving stones (the sidewalk in front of the Old Whaling Station is made from whale vertebrae). It has been said that “nothing was wasted except the whale itself.”
By the early part of the 20th century the whaling industry had begun to decline, largely because the whale populations themselves were declining. Whaling around the world had become so efficient that the whales were being killed faster than they could reproduce. The International Whaling Commission was created in 1946 in an attempt to establish quotas and bring sustainability to the industry, but even this was not enough. The IWC declared a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 to prevent the extinction of the world’s largest mammals.
Today, the Old Whaling Station is a nationally registered historic landmark owned by the State of California. It was restored starting in 1980 and it is open to the public free of charge. In addition to its status as a museum it is a popular spot for weddings, and many people are married there each year.
Know Before You Go
The Old Whaling Station is located in a pedestrian plaza called Heritage Harbor. Parking is available in the parking structure on the opposite side of Pacific Street and a pedestrian bridge connects the parking structure to the plaza.