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Whaling

The whaling industry replaced the sandalwood trade. As the sandalwood industry declined, Hawai’i became the base for the north-central Pacific whaling trade. Hawai‘i’s whaling era began in 1819 when two New England ships became the first whaling ships to arrive in the Hawaiian Islands.

Whalers, seeking supplies called at Kōloa Landing (Site #10;) it continued its foremost role on the island as a port and supply station. Kōloa was a center for agriculture and as such became the center of activity for Kauaʻi.

Rich whaling waters were later 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.

At that time, whale oil was used for heating, lamps and in industrial machinery; whale bone was used in corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas and buggy whips.

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.

The whaling industry was the mainstay of the island economy for about 40 years. For Hawaiian ports, including Kōloa Landing (Site #10,) the whaling fleet was the crux of the economy. More than 100 ships stopped in Hawaiian ports in 1824. 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.

Whaling was most profitable on Kauaʻi from the mid-1830s to about 1861. Fortunes were founded upon industries related to it and these were the forerunners of the money interests that were to dominate the economy of the islands for a century to come.

And then swiftly whaling came 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, including off shore of Poʻipū Beach (Site #16.) 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.
Whaling also introduced the concept of “hiring on” for a long period of time. Just as sailors signed on for a voyage that normally lasted years, so were workers indentured for work on the burgeoning sugar plantation industry.