Wednesday, February 20, 2008

east to eden

First stop on the coast was Eden. Not a particularly inspiring town but it has a great history as a whaling station so we headed for the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

The story goes that in the mid 19th century the whalers in the bay received help in their work by a pod of killer whales led by 'Old Tom'. Whaling was a profitable business, the blubber used for high quality lighting oil and machine lubricants, the balleen for corsetry, hoops for skirts, and umbrellas. The cost of setting up a watching station to whale spot was expensive so when Old Tom and the gang arrived and started to alert the whalers to the presence of blue, right and balleen whales it was a profitable alliance.

Old Tom used to splash and jump close to shore when prey was nearby to alert the whalers, then the whaler boats and the pod used to work in unison tracking down the hapless victims. The orcas were rewarded with the tongue and lips- the only bits they covet-then the whalers hauled the carcass to shore.

Sounded like a tall tale, especially the part where Old Tom supposedly got over excited and grabbed the harpoon rope to assist hauling in the prey, but having seen his skeleton there is no doubt that the teeth on his left lower mandible were grooved by the rope with all the enamel and dentine worn away to expose the pulp. Added to the fact that the whaling company went bankrupt the year after Old Tom's body was found on the beach makes for a convincing yarn.

My favourite exhibit was a newspaper article from 1892 reporting a new 'cure' for osteoarthritis. The decomposing blue whale carcass on the beach had people sized tunnels dug into the blubber layer.This carcass could reach temperatures of over 40 degrees Celcius. The afflicted patient was slotted into the rotting whale pocket ( gentlemen naked, ladies dressed in a light shift ) for 45 minutes. Results were miraculous ( therapeutic effect due to a synergy between the whale oil and the decomposition gases ) , although the patient was to expect a noxious lingering odour for up to 3 weeks, and a propensity for chills and vapours.

I reckon that whatever my locomotor difficulties prior to the ordeal, I would have found the strength and presence of mind to run like hell afterwards too.

No comments: