The Beginnings

The first modern whaling expedition was sent to South Georgia in 1904 by the Argentine company “Company Argentine de Pesca” and was led by a Norwegian captain C. A. Larsen. However, it all started 10 years previously:

During the 1890’s, Christen Christensen from Sandefjord and Svend Foyn from Tønsberg both sent expeditions to the Antarctic to investigate the possibility of whaling in the area. Christensen chose C. A. Larsen to be captain of his ship “Jason” . C.A.Larsen was later in charge of Otto Nordenskjold’s expedition ship “Antarctic” in 1901-1903. Whilst the expedition was in Grytviken in 1902, Larsen described it as a sheltered and natural harbour with a supply of fresh water. When he arrived in Buenos Aires in 1903 he came into contact with two leading businessmen, Pedro Christoffersen and Ernesto Tornquist, who showed an interest in whaling. A limited company was established with the name “Company Argentine de Pesca”, registered in Buenos Aires and sailing under the Argentine flag.

Most of the capital in the business was from Argentina, but the company still had connections with Norway and the county of Vestfold. The company’s first whale catcher “Fortuna” was built at Framnæs Shipyard in Sandefjord. C. A. Larsen also ordered most of the equipment and hired most of the workers from Vestfold. Sandefjord’s economy benefited enormously from the company and the names “Grytviken”, “Pesca” and “Øya” are still household names in the area.

The establishment of a whaling company in Grytviken bought about diplomatic complications with Great Britain laying claim to South Georgia. The result being that it was the British who came to regulate the catching by concessions and catching licenses. Seven concessions were given and Norwegian companies from Tønsberg, Sandefjord and Larvik each established a land station on the island as did companies from South Africa and Scotland. A concession was also given to “Bryde & Dahls Hvalfangerselskap” from Sandefjord at Godthul. However,they never built a land station but operated from a moored floating factory ship.

Whaling was operated for 60 years from South Georgia. Up to the year 1912, it was humpback whale catching that dominated the industry, but already by 1916 they were of minor importance. Many of the whaling companies’ profits were enormous. “Argentina de Pesca”, for example, had a profit of 307% of its capital in 1910-1911 and during the first eight seasons its shareholders earned 243% and 90% was set in its fund. The world economic crisis during the 1930’s was, however, to effect the whaling industry. As a consequence, most of the whaling stations on South Georgia were closed down. It was only in Grytviken and at Leith Harbour (owned and run by the Scottish whaling company Christian Salvesen) that whaling continued and Strømnes was used as a repair yard from 1931.

After the second world war, whaling restarted at Husvik Harbour (owned and run by Tønsbergs Hvalfangeri). At the end of the 1950’s, the industry experimented with the production of frozen whale meat, but was already declining. At the beginning of the 1960’s, both Grytviken and Leith Harbour were rented out to Japanese interests. Whaling ended on the island of South Georgia on the15th of December 1965 when Leith Harbour was closed down

Forrige artikkelWhaling and History III Neste artikkelThe Natural History exhibition