Here’s a telling photograph that came out of the family attic. This harvest of small whales happened in Blackfish Creek at the site of the Southern Wharf pier in South Wellfleet over a century ago. It was quite the bonanza to herd in so many at once, and all for the “melons” or the brains. I’ve been told that the brains yielded a much sought after oil during the Industrial Revolution, necessary for efficient tiny gears for watches, clocks, and all the smaller parts of machinery that worked so well when lubricated with this melon oil. . . all before the petroleum derivatives were cooked up in the chemistry labs. Those men in the photograph could be your great-grandfather or mine, adding up the take.
How did they do it? When a pod of whales came in, the dories would go out, and the water would be smacked with oars until the doomed whales were driven up on the sandy shores. This had been going on for centuries, and the whites probably learned it from the Native Americans. But what is terrible for us to look at today is the fact that so many were killed at once. In the 1880′s, one such drive yielded the windfall that is captioned in this vintage post card.
The pilings in the background are the pilings of what was the Southern Wharf Company at the end of what is now Old Wharf Road in South Wellfleet. You can see rescue teams there now quite often-performing quite the opposite task- rescuing the dolphins and only occasional blackfish (pilot whales) that become grounded there as a result of a very gradual tidal flat and a quickly receding tide.