For hundreds of years, but particularly in the early days of the industrial revolution, whale oil was both an important energy source and raw material for many specialty products, from cosmetics to various lubricants and foods. But competition from alternatives compounded by major sustainability issues saw the whaling industry largely vanish during the 20th century. Electric lighting and petroleum replaced whale oil in most energy applications by the early 1900s and the modern petrochemical industry and substitutes such as palm oil did away with the specialty market. Nevertheless, industrial whaling as a commercial business lasted some 300 years.
The derelict whaling stations of South Georgia island offer the opportunity to peer into this past era and reflect on the value of the industry at the time, the issues it faced and its eventual demise. The photographs below were taken this morning by me in Grytviken, South Georgia, on a voyage from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope.