Whaling, then and now

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Māori and other South Pacific people first harvested whales in the South Pacific, taking food and materials from stranded animals.

This low-impact ‘whaling’ would change from the early 1800s, when ships from Europe and America came to hunt the bonanza of whales in Pacific waters. Around the same time, shore-based whaling stations became established in New Zealand.

In the twentieth century, whaling became more industrialised and deadly. But during the 1970s, New Zealand’s attitude to whaling changed – from general support to active opposition. Now whale watching has become one of New Zealand’s most lucrative tourist enterprises.

Find out more about the history of whaling

At the exhibition

Emphasize to your students that this section is about whaling from early harvesting by Maori to whaling today. Explore the immediate area then gather the students back to discuss the following questions and topics.

Questions for 5 to 10 year olds

  • Why did whalers choose to come to New Zealand?

  • Which is your favourite picture and why?

  • Find the whalers tools, what tool would you like to use and why?

  • What did people use whales for after they were killed 100 years ago?

Questions for 10 years old and over

  • Which picture do you find disturbing and why? Do you like any of the images and why?

  • Imagine you lived on a whaling ship, what would life have been like for the whalers? What hardships do you think they went though?

  • Discuss the impact of whaling on whales over the last 200 years?

  • Discuss the impact of Traditional harvesting on whale populations.

  • Discuss the changes that have occurred with whaling and the attitude changes of people that have occured over the last 200 years.

  • Discuss some of the products that have come from whales over the years. Can you think of any new products or uses of whales today? If so, what are they?

Teachers notes:

Maori welcomed whale strandings as they supplied meat bone and ivory and were considered a gift from Tangaroa the guardian or god of the sea. Rich traditions around stranding sites have developed though out Aotearoa.

European people arrived in the late 1700s and took back the knowledge of many whales in the southern waters thus many whalers arrived carving a great sway through the whale populations. The most sort after being the Sperm and Right whales.

Whales were hunted for the meat, baleen, ambergris, oil, ivory and bone.

Attitudes in New Zealand have changed in more recent times to focus on conservation and tourism.

Related classroom activities

Challenge for the Students

Create a diary of someone who worked on a whaling vessel in the past or now, or create a diary of a person in a whale conservation organisation or a person who has observed the whaling industry in any way.

Before visiting the exhibition

Research other peoples diaries from the period of time and the topic that the student has chosen.

Compare the style of writing with now and adapt to the period of time for their focus.

Research the period of time and activities that people would have experienced with whales at that time.

During the visit to the exhibition

Visit the Harvest or whaling segment of the exhibition.

Take note of the images associated with this area, take note of the labels in this area, start thinking of the different experiences that people would have gone though in the selected area of study.

Discuss in groups the experiences of the people for your diary focus.

Discuss the every day experiences to the dramatic experiences.

Draw sketches of the experience that people went through in your chosen period of time.

After the visit to the exhibition

Source materials that are required to produce the diaries and try to make them look as authentic as possible (dye paper in tea for diaries that may be 200 years old).

Draft up the final copy.

From the preliminary works create the final copy for presentation to the class or teacher.

Other suggested learning experiences

  • Create an online classroom museum and upload the diaries with graphic elements to make them look authentic.

  • Script and podcast the diary in the style that people spoke in the time of the diary, record then upload onto the world wide web.

  • Research whale senses and articulate what a whale might experience if hunted by whalers. Compare this to what the whalers experienced and create a story or essay highlighting the two different perspectives in a chase to the kill.

  • Research a local person that may have been involved in either the conservation of whales or in the whaling industry. Invite these people into the class for a talk about their experiences. Prepare the class by considering what they would like to know and compile questions from the students.

  • Consider customs and traditions of people throughout the world who harvested whales and hunted whales for centuries. Research their customs and practices and create posters of support for these peoples’ customs and traditions.

  • Create a whale conservation group, considering a team of people for fund raising, administration, how to apply funds sourced, advertising, recruiting and focuses.