The Whaling Industry in Scotland


A brief page on Whales in Scotland.

Floransay, Isle of Skye, by William Daniell. 1818.


Whales were very much more abundant in Scottish waters in the past, than they are now. John Knox observed them in plenty in the sea between Applecross and Skye as he travelled up the west coast: "The large ones were perceived at a distance by means of the water which they throw into the air when they breathe, and appears in the form of cascades. They ramble about in search of the herrings, which they devour by a hundred at a time, but many are thrown into the air with water, and thus have a narrow escape." John MacCulloch, when off Lewes, spotted "the Bottle-Nosed or Piked Whale, which follows the herrings in large shoals. They had often amused us with their gambols and their spouts, but on one occasion also, we had been indebted to one of them for no small alarm. The abominable uxorious beast had mistaken our boat for his wife, and made love so rudely that he nearly knocked one of the men overboard with his tail."

William Daniell's aquatint of Floransay (above) depicts a large shoal being driven onto the shore. He also heard of this in the vicinity of Loch Glendhu: "Herrings frequently find their way hither, as into other lochs on the coast, and large shoals are frequently driven by whales into the narrow creeks. On these occasions the peasants lose no time in surrounding the shoals, in their refuge, with nets: large quantities, sometimes a ship-load at a time, are thus secured without much trouble, and are taken up in baskets. The whales, in the eagerness of pursuit, not unfrequently run themselves aground, and thus augment the value of the capture."

By the 20th century, whaling had established itself as an industry in northern Scotland. The station at Bunavoneader, for example, on Harris was set up by a Norwegian company.

Opened at the turn of the century, it was bought in 1920 by Lord Leverhulme. It remained active until 1929. The whales can be seen piled up on the quay in this postcard image. Once processed, the whale products were shipped off to Glasgow.

The station was briefly reopened in the 1950s, but it remained operational for only a few years. As can be seen from the image below, it employed a fair number of people.