Tag Archives: Dundee


21 Nov

Britain is no longer a whaling nation but whaling made a significant contribution to its economy over many centuries. In the late nineteenth century the favoured whale, the most commercial ‘right’ whale, had been culled to near extinction in the North Atlantic and whaling expeditions from Dundee went south in search of these whales; they were fortunately unsuccessful and the industry declined. Hunters called the whales they were searching for ‘right’ whales because the whales swam slowly (and so were easy to catch) and floated when killed because of their large amount of blubber (which was rendered to tons of oil). Additionally their heads, one third of the whales’ length, contained long cartilaginous combs, Baleen plates, which filtered their food. These combs were much in demand commercially for use; corsets and umbrella spokes. The absence of Baleen plates may have influenced the fashion industry in the decline of the popularity of corsets!! Electricity made whale oil redundant for lighting.
The International Whaling Commission of 1946 was a global body designed to conserve and manage whaling. There were 88 member governments who were all signatories to the

Convention, which aimed to regulate whaling internationally. A moratorium on whale hunting of 1949 gave complete protection to the ‘right’ whale and the South African population of these whales is believed to have grown from 100 to 1,000 animals. However the northern ‘right’ whales remain at risk with only several hundred animals counted. This number does not appear to have increased in the decades since the moratorium. Is this because the females do not become sexually mature until the age of ten and give birth to a single calf after a years gestation? Additionally whilst they are not hunted by man, they remain at risk from Orcas whales that hunt in packs.

Loopholes in the convention mean that Japan, Norway and Iceland continue to hunt whales under the provision of ‘scientific’ reasons. Japan, which resists the Convention strongly, along with Norway and Iceland, have politically influential whaling industries and kill about 2,000 whales per year

Whales remain vulnerable and this will continue until all loopholes are closed. This can only happen by agreement with the dissenting nations when the industries are compensated. The commercial value of whale watching could be further developed.


15 Feb

Like most of us, I imagine, when on a ship, my only serious thought relates to her ability to get me to my destination. It is easy to forget the distinguished histories of many of these vessels and SS Discovery, (now 114 years old and based at Discovery Point in the city of her build, Dundee), is one of these.

Especially designed for Antarctica, she was designed by William E. Smith and built at tremendous expense, £50,000 in 1901. Her massive oak frame was clad stem to stern with inner and outer linings of  Riga Fur, Pitch Pine and Dutch Elm to a thickness of 26 inches.  Her stem was reinforced with oak strips and steel. oak strips and steal. In Antarctica she was encased in ice until early 1904.

But this expedition was the first of many. To me, some of her most interesting and dangerous ventures were in the First World War. At this time she was owned by The Hudson Bay Company and was one of many ships leased to the governments of France and Britain to transport food and raw materials between North America and Europe.

This organisation was the brainchild of Jean Monnet, a French brandy merchant with experience of shipping supplies who was to go on to become architect of the European Common Market, later the European Union. Transportation was hazardous in the extreme. Germany had declared the sea around Great Britain a war zone. 13,000,000 tons of goods were transported through areas riddled with mines to France, Russia, Belgium, Between June and September 1915, ten British, Russian and neutral vessels were lost. For nearly four years virtually all munitions to Russia were via Archangel, a horrendous sail via the Barent Sea and the White Sea.

100s of ships were involved. The contribution of these convoys in World War 1, will, I hope, be recognized this year.

Later Discovery was refitted as a scientific vessel. Important work was done in relation to whale conservation Even in 1915 this problem was recognized  ‘On its present scale and with its present wasteful and indiscriminate methods, whaling is an industry which, by destroying its own resources, must soon expire’. Scientific discoveries were made about the sea and the seabed.

She wasn’t done yet! In World War 2, moored in The Thames as the Sea Scouts training ship, she was Headquarters of the River Emergency Service (it was said that despite the air raids no scout failed to report for his eight hour watch). Then the Parachute Mine Service – Scouts sent a compass bearing of these mines to Royal Naval headquarters.

She is now in honourable ‘retirement’ at Dundee Point. An education centre for thousands of visitors.

What a ship. What a history