Eden Australia: Home of the Killer Whale Museum
On the south coast of NSW you’ll find Eden, Australia, a whale-watching hotspot. You’ve got a reasonable chance of spotting whales all along the Sapphire Coast: humpbacks, orcas, southern right whales, minkes, and maybe even a blue whale if you’re *very* lucky. But Eden isn’t just known for spotting whales—it’s a little darker than that.
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 killer whale tales I’ve ever heard outside of Free Willy.
I will now share three of my favorites with you.
1. Old Tom the orca: leader of the pack
Old Tom the orca led his pack in cahoots with the whalers of Twofold Bay, the third-deepest natural harbour in the southern hemisphere. The deal was that Tom’s killer whale pod would find and encircle a group of non-orca whales. Old Tom then splashed around in the water to encourage the whalers to launch a boat; once they did, he took them straight to the captive whales.
Once the helpless whales were harpooned, Old 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 Old Tom and his mates, who gobbled them right up.
The skeleton of Old Tom is now immortalized forever in the museum, where you can get up close and personal with those rope-worn teeth.
After Old Tom died in 1930, not one orca turned up in Twofold Bay to help the whalers; soon after the whaling industry died in Eden Australia.
I know. This totally sounds like Ripley’s Believe It Or Not but BELIEVE IT.
2. Whales and arthritis: in a nude condition
As long as you’re suspending your disbelief I may as well carry on with an even more implausible story, as presented by the Eden Killer Whale Museum. 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, desperation, and a total disregard for science. It involved lowering oneself into the carcass of a dead whale.
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-day Jonah in Eden Australia
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 (justified, IMO), then dove hundreds of feet into the ocean’s depths. A quick head count of the rescued sailors revealed that two were missing (ONE GUESS WHERE THEY WERE).
The whale surfaced for its swan song, only to be winched to the ship, where the whalers of Eden Australia 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 Eden Killer Whale Museum was having me on, but in the end I chose to believe their ludicrous tales. The museum reports that 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.
Visiting the Eden Killer Whale Museum
- Monday – Saturday 9:15am – 3:45pm
- Sunday 10:15am – 2:45pm
- Closed Christmas Day
- Adults: $15
- Children 5-15 years: $5
- Children under 5 years: Free
Facilities include disabled access, disabled restroom, car park, lift, and viewing platform. For more information and how to get there, visit the museum website.
Last updated October 2022
Beyond the Eden Killer Whale Museum
Eden has more to offer than the Killer Whale Museum (though if that’s all you came for, you wouldn’t be disappointed). Unsurprisingly, many of the town’s activities continue to revolve around whales.
The east coast of Australia is a whale-watching paradise, provided you’re there at the right time. Humpback whales pass by Eden in the spring during their annual southern migration, and can typically be seen between September and early December, though you may see them as early as May.
Eden is a major pit stop for whales along the famed ‘Humpback Highway’. Since Twofold Bay is the third-deepest natural harbour, it’s also a favorite place for the whales to stop and feed. Mothers with calves also take rest breaks in Twofold Bay before continuing their journey. While you’re most likely to spot humpbacks, species like southern right whales, orcas, pilot whales, and even sperm whales may also cruise past.
Whales can easily be spotted from shore, even without binoculars — look for the telltale sign of a spout, followed by flukes, and if you’re lucky, a breach. If you’re not sure that what you saw was a whale, the Eden Killer Whale Museum sounds a siren when whales are visible from shore.
Where to see whales from shore
Eden has a gorgeous coastline with plenty of lookout spots. Near the museum you’ll find viewing platforms at the Rotary Park Lookout and the eastern end of Bass Street.
For a more active viewing, stroll along the Pinnacles Loop Walking Track north of the city, an easy 1.1km loop with plenty of whale-watching opportunities. You’ll also find two lookout points for checking out the 65-million-year-old Pinnacles formation along the way.
Eden is surrounded by Beowa National Park (formerly Ben Boyd National Park), which has stunning coastline and walking tracks to explore. Visit area beaches like Pinnacles Beach and Aslings Beach rock pool, or go to the southern end of Eden to the Davidson whaling station for more whaling history, then Boyd’s Tower and the Green Cape lighthouse for more spectacular views.
Cruising for whales
Get up close and personal with the whales (and dolphins and seals!) by hopping on one of the many cruises that depart from the wharf at Quarantine Bay. See a list of local charter companies here — I haven’t personally taken a whale watch cruise in Eden but it’s on my list for when we return.
In 2020, mural artist Brett Ralph painted a beautiful 97-foot-long life-sized mural of a blue whale at the corner of Imlay and Chandos Streets. It represents one of the largest whales Old Tom & his pod of killer whales ever rounded up, and it’s yet another a sobering reminder of Eden’s whaling past.
Eden Whale Festival
If you’re in town during the right weekend in October, you might be lucky enough to catch the Eden Whale Festival. Besides having one of my all-time favorite festival taglines — Join the migration! — it’s a fun celebration of everything whale-related. It’s got everything from mixed-media art competitions to market stalls and celebrity chefs, and of course, whale watching.
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