Commercial Whaling's Last Holdout: The Bay Area?

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Update Wednesday, 2:11 p.m.: Two days after this cartoon was first published a humpback whale was killed by a ship in San Francisco Bay.

Whaling's Last Holdout: The Bay Area by Mark Fiore

record number of whales have been struck by ships off the California coast this year.

A new listening station in the Santa Barbara Channel aims to cut down on those deaths — but it's a difficult problem since whale feeding grounds are often located near major ports, including those at Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's busiest.

While researching ship strikes and whale deaths, I stumbled across an interesting fact: the Del Monte Fishing Co. (no relation to Del Monte Foods) based in Richmond had a quota to kill and process 75 sperm whales in 1971.

That number jumped out at me because a 2017 study found that around 80 whales are killed by ship strikes off the West Coast every year.

After looking more closely at the historical record and visiting the National Park Service's Maritime Research Center, I realized the whales in the 1970s and earlier had it much, much worse than the whales dodging ships today.

For an interesting look into Bay Area whaling, check out this KQED video from 2007:


In addition to the Richmond whaling station's quota for 75 sperm whales, they were also given the go-ahead to take 42 finback whales and 52 sei whales in the early '70s.

According to a 1971 New York Times article, the Del Monte Fishing Co. processed an average of 150 whales annually.

That is a lot of majestic marine mammals getting killed for pet food, although those numbers pale in comparison to what the Russians and the Japanese were taking at the time.

But thankfully for the whales off our coast, along came the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act — and particularly a U.S. Commerce Department edict that put an immediate end to commercial whaling in the United States.