Took a copy of the The Argonaut to lunch today and learned something that I guess makes sense, but still surprised me. In the 1930s there were active gray whale hunts in Santa Monica Bay. In 1935, at least 185 grays were harpooned off Point Dume and in the outer bay. The following year, fifty were killed during January alone, a peak month in the annual gray whale migration from Alaska to Mexico and back. A 953-ton factory ship called the California and two harpoon boats worked the bay from their base at Paradise Cove in Malibu.
On the California, lancers with long-handled knives would cut blubber from the whale and remove its tongue and head.
Blubber was dumped into gigantic tanks called "digesters" and steamed for up to 24 hours to get 60 barrels of oil.
Oil from blubber could be sold for more than $20 per barrel. The oil was used to make soap, shortening, and margarine.
Most of the meat was frozen then turned into Dr. Ross dog food. The Argonaut's detail comes from a 1936 account in the Santa Monica Evening Outlook by reporter and photographer Emerson Gaze. His story and photos are at the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum.
* Noted: (4:20 pm) Cybele May points me to the website where American Cetacean Society volunteers post their daily count of gray whales spotted from Point Vicente. Yesterday they observed eleven passing whales, including four calves.
Add Santa Monica history: Columnist Frank Gruber in The Lookout welcomes the city's grand new main library and looks at Gov. Schwarzenegger's infrastructure-building initiative through the lens of the past.