May 30, 2007
Here it is, the re-post of #2 in the new series of little pieces for the SFist, one of San Francisco’s most well established collaborative blogging projects.
Could it be that our lost little whale pair have finally had their sonar set to rights? And wouldn’t that be nice.
Makes us hark back to 1914 when the brutal “golden era” of whaling finally ended and it was the whaling ships that were leaving instead of the whales. Incidentally, the very last whaling ship to sally forth from San Francisco Bay was none other than the “Gay Head” (insert your own joke here). But that’s quite another story.
What those delta-wandering whales don’t realize, though, is just how lucky they are. Relatively speaking. Back in the day — or to be precise, the quarter-century between 1882 and 1908 — San Francisco was the whaling capital of the world, putting even the New Englanders to shame. During these few years, more ships sailed through the Golden Gate in search of the Arctic bowhead whale than from anywhere else on earth.
Nautically inclined author Herman Melville had wandered through our little port city just a couple of decades earlier… could be that the proximity of the creator of “Moby Dick” somehow stimulated the local trade.
Or not. Actually, whaling madness was fueled by the Victorian addiction to whale oil and whalebone; the former lit their carriage lamps and house lights, and the latter, with its strength and flexibility, was prized for use in buggy whips, hoop skirts, and — of vital importance to the wasp-waisted age — corsets.
Spring steel replaced whalebone, and the appearance of kerosene in 1857 introduced the era of the gaslight — and a sigh of relief from our mammalian relatives up in the Arctic.
Of course, with corsets and buggy whips having made a surprise comeback in certain city neighborhoods, those whales might want to watch their backs on the way out of the Golden Gate…