Akutan Whaling Station, Akutan Harbor

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Akutan Whaling Station, Akutan Harbor

by | Jun 28, 2021

The Alaska Whaling Company built a whaling station in 1912 on the south shore of Akutan Harbor on Akutan Island, about 34 miles (55 km) northeast of Dutch Harbor and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west-southwest of the village of Akutan, Alaska. It was the only whaling station in the Aleutian Islands and operated until 1939. Total catches at Akutan from 1912 to 1939 consisted mainly of fin (at least 2,498), humpback (1,510), blue (835), sperm (482), and right whales (9).

The Alaska Whaling Company was owned by Lars Christensen and financed by investors in Norway and the United States. The station was built to be close to whale migration routes, and initially had two steam-powered whaling ships named Unimak and Kodiak built by Moran Shipyard in Seattle. Between May and October, the vessels hunted within a radius of approximately 100 nautical miles (185 km) of the station on both the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean sides of the Aleutian Islands and in Unimak Pass. Whales were killed with harpoon cannons and towed to the station where a floating processer named Admiralen rendered the oil. In 1914, the Alaska Whaling Company was reorganized as the North Pacific Sea Products Company owned by Knut Birkeland of Minneapolis and resumed operations with an additional whaling vessel name Tanginak. The Admiralen was replaced by the bark Fresno that was converted as a floating processer.

In 1918, the North Pacific Sea Products Company was purchased by William Schupp who owned the American Pacific Whaling Company, and the Consolidated Whaling Corporation based at Point Ellice in Victoria, British Columbia. In 1918, the Akutan Station killed 310 whales and in 1919, 1,025 whales were killed. Schupp attempted to develop a market for whale meat, which was labeled as “sea-beef”, and during World War I when other sources of meat were scarce, he provided whale meat to the Seattle market. However, the whale meat marketing campaign was not successful and the low price of whale oil caused the station to close from 1931 to 1933 when the plant was used by the Northwest Herring Company as a herring saltery. After 1939, the whaling station was inactive. The station was leased to the U.S. Navy during the Aleutian Campaign of World War II from 1942 to 1945. The upland area and selected intertidal and subtidal areas were contaminated with Bunker C fuel oil resulting from vessel spills. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers conducted a cleanup of the site in 1998 and 1999, including the excavation of petroleum-contaminated soil, but deteriorated timber docks and pilings, abandoned steel, and commercial fishing equipment remain. See a short video about shore whaling in the early 1900s here. Read more here and here. Explore more of Akutan Harbor here:

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