A Whale of a Tale in Eden, NSW

Eden whale museum

On the south coast of NSW you’ll find the town of Eden, one of Australia’s whale watching hotspots. There on the Sapphire Coast you’ve got a reasonable chance of spotting humpbacks, orcas, southern right whales, minkes, and maybe even a blue whale if you’re *very* lucky.

The downside of being a whale magnet is that Eden was once a key player in Australia’s whaling industry. Although Australia has been an anti-whaling nation since 1947, all bets were off before then. The country’s whaling years are immortalized at the Eden Killer Whale Museum, where I was introduced to some of the most outlandish tales I’ve ever heard.

I will now share three of my favorites with you.

You’re welcome.

1. Leader of the pack

Killer whale dorsal fin

A LIFE-SIZED depiction of Tom’s 5’8″ dorsal fin. Really puts it in terrifying perspective.

Tom led a pack of orcas who were in cahoots with the human whalers in Eden’s Twofold Bay. Tom used to splash around in the water to encourage the whalers to launch a boat; once they did, he took them straight to the whales being held captive by his posse of orcas. Once the helpless whales were harpooned, Tom was known for grabbing the line with his teeth to speed up the process, resulting in his teeth being worn down to the gums. As a reward, the whalers threw the FOUR TON whale tongues to Tom and his mates, who gobbled them right up.

Whale skeleton Eden


After Tom died in 1930, not one orca turned up in Twofold Bay to help the whalers; soon after the whaling industry died in Eden.

I know. This totally sounds like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not but BELIEVE IT.

2. In a nude condition

As long as you’re suspending your disbelief I may as well carry on with an even more implausible story. Once upon a time, whales were touted as a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, but the treatment was an outstanding example of what I can only identify as creativity and desperation. It involved lowering oneself into the carcass of a dead whale.

Killer whale museum

I see what you did there, museum – gave us a pretty view to distract from the gross and bloodthirsty whaling past.

I’ll refer directly to these excerpts from the Pambula Voice on October 25th, 1892:

“The male patients are placed in the whale in a nude condition while the female sufferer was covered with a loose gown. They remained in the whale for about an hour and a half on this occasion. The temperature of the carcase (sic) standing at 105 degrees (Fahrenheit) (about 40 degrees Celsius).”

And, an extremely important side note, taken verbatim from the museum’s display:

*After effects of the ‘cure’ are that the patients give off a horrible dead odour for a week or two.

3. A modern Jonah

Now that you’re primed to believe anything about whaling, I can tell you this story from February 1891.

A harpooned sperm whale smashed a whaleboat to pieces, then dove hundreds of feet into the ocean’s depths. A quick head count of the rescued sailors revealed that two were missing (THREE GUESSES WHERE THEY WERE).

Ship's wheel whaling boat

I’ll tell you this much, they weren’t on the ship.

The whale surfaced for its swan song, only to be winched to the ship where the whalers immediately set to work. When partitioning the whale they noticed ‘rhythmic movements like something trying to breathe’ coming from its expansive stomach, so they cut it open.

“Out came a boot on a trousered leg and there was James Bartley, one of the missing crewmen, doubled up, unconscious, but still living after fifteen hours in the belly of a whale.”

At this point I had to question whether or not the museum was having me on, but in the end I chose to believe their ludicrous tales. Allegedly, the whale’s digestive juices permanently bleached Bartley’s skin ‘a deathly white.’ He also lost all of his hair and was rendered almost blind, but eventually told of how he slid past the whale’s teeth into a stomach full of live fish.

No word on what happened to the other guy.

shark cushion

Next friend of mine who has a kid is totally getting this cushion as a gift.

These stories are all true—at least according to the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

Which one was the hardest to swallow?



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