Whale bone

Author: Michael Abbott


On a recent debris survey John and Kim found what we believe is a whale bone. Apparently, we almost dropped the shot mooring line onto the bone. Janet took a picture. Fancy finding a whale bone in Mosman?


Is it unusually to find a whale bone in Sydney Harbour? Yes in my experience but maybe it shouldn’t be that way. Q quick search revealed this bit of history.


Mosman is named after Archibald Mosman (1799–1863) and his twin brother George, who moved onto a 4-acre (16,000 m2) land grant in the area in 1831. They were involved in shipping, and founded a whaling station on a bay in the harbour, which became known as Mosman’s Bay. George subsequently became involved in grazing, but Archibald continued with whaling activities. By 1838, he owned 108 acres (0.44 km2) along the Mosman waterfront.


Whaling was a lucrative industry in the early years when whales were plentiful and the number of vessels hunting them was relatively small.


To encourage whalers to call, the governors did their best to accommodate the industry. None did more than the first governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, who had begun his maritime career on the British northern whaler Fortune.


Sydney deep-sea whalers in the 1820s took an average of 81 barrels of oil per month at sea. By 1828 Sydney was setting itself up as an oil port but because of the noise and smells of boiling down the blubber and coopering from Sydney Cove Governor Darling ordered the whalers to keep to remote coves on the north shore. Oblisk Bay would have been perfect as it is straight in from the heads and sheltered from the swell.


In response to pressure, whaling allotments, with a waterfront, were made available for the whalers. The grants to Mosman and Bell were in Great Sirius Cove now Mosman Bay. Mosman's four acres included the site of the present ferry wharf and adjoining Bell's four acres which extended south along the foreshore. Mosman subsequently bought Bells's grant and then added to his establishment until it aggregated 108 acres and extended up to what is now known as Military Road.


In the 1820s there were now at least 21 whalers based in Sydney.


Australian whaling peaked in the 1830s, when there were 118 vessels involved in the industry at Sydney and Hobart.


But even during that decade of peak activity, the industry had started to decline as years of ruthless slaughter began to take a toll. Whale stocks fell steadily and made it increasingly difficult for vessels to return to port with a full ship.


During the second half of the nineteenth century there were periodic returns to whaling. A spike in the price of sperm whale oil in 1870 prompted one such resurgence of interest. Vessels were brought back into the trade and by July that year there were eight local vessels whaling again from Port Jackson.


Obelisk Beach is now about 100 metres in length and is off the beaten path looking out into Sydney Harbour. Little known among tourists, but known to locals in the Mosman district, this beach gets low traffic and tends to be quiet and tranquil. Officially sanctioned as a clothing optional beach, it is not uncommon to find bathers and beach-goers completely free of swimwear.


Yachts more here for lunch and very occasionally a dive boat will pull up with rubber-suited individuals searching the sandy bottom.


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©2020 Underwater Research Group of NSW

All photos on this website, unless credited otherwise, are by John Turnbull

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