If you're a resident or even an annual visitor to Gansbaai, you’ve probably noticed a tortoise or two crossing the road...
In 1912 Mr Frank Cook decided to build a whaling station at Stony Point. At the time there was a big demand for whale oil and the natural harbour at Stony Point combined with the annual visits of Southern Right Whales made it a good location for a whaling station. Mr Cook was from the Southern Cross Whaling Company and decided to lease 60 acres of land that was owned by Mr Walsh.
To begin, Cook needed permission to build the station and that was granted by the Cape Town Department of Lands. He hired a small group of Norwegians, who were the whaling experts at the time, to build the station and manage the factories.
The station consisted of a Boiler shed, a blubber house, oil storage tanks, meat house, guano factory, pump house and the employee's quarters. Some of the structures reached as high as three stories.
The whales, once caught, were brought in by two steamboats. Southern Right Whales were the easiest catch for whalers because of their innate curiosity that brought them closer to the boats, their tendency to swim close to the shoreline and the fact that they float once dead.
The whaling station in Betty's Bay began operations in 1913 and the first year's catch totalled 179 whales. Over the years the station caught a high of 300 whales in season. In 1917 Irvin & Johnson Ltd. took over the whaling station which continued to operate until 1930 when the station was closed due to a decline in demand.
At its peak the whaling station employed 220 men that were housed in quarters at the station. At that point the road from Gordon's Bay had not yet been built so they had to be incredibly resourceful for provisions. They grew some of their own vegetables and kept a few pigs and water was pumped form a reservoir in the mountains. Provisions where shipped in, but unfortunately ships had to anchor offshore and employees had to make the hazardous trip across turbulent seas by boat and the guidance of a rope strung between the ship and shore. Other provisions were brought on land by wagon, which was a tricky endeavour as the road wasn't yet constructed.
All that remains today are some of the foundations and original images that can be viewed at the Whaling Station Restaurant in Betty's Bay. Since the whaling station closed a colony of African Penguins has made Stony Point their home and the number of Southern Right Whales has increased, which is a great attraction for locals and tourists alike.