Image Twofold Bay whaling, early 20th century

TLF ID R3043

This is a photograph made from a glass plate negative measuring 12.0 cm x 16.5 cm dating from between 1900 and 1922. It shows a whale hunt taking place in Twofold Bay on the south-eastern coast of New South Wales. There is a five-oared whaling boat visible, with the captain, George Davidson, standing aft (at the rear), holding the rudder. A killer whale is next to the boat. Also visible is a section of another boat carrying Charles Eden Wellings, the photographer.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts the type of boat used for generations by the Davidsons, a Twofold Bay whaling family - it was rowed by five men (one is at the bow, out of view in this photograph), with rudder duties being attended to by a sixth man, usually the captain of the boat; it was the captain's responsibility to decide when the harpoon would be thrown and to tie off the harpoon rope; from this point, the boat would be at the mercy of the whale until it died.
  • It shows an orca (killer whale) surfacing beside the whaler - a large pod of orcas in Twofold Bay developed a unique relationship with the Davidson family in the early years of the 20th century; once the orcas had alerted the whalers to the presence of migrating humpbacks outside the Bay by breaching noisily, and the Davidsons had heard the signal and launched their boat, the orcas would act together to herd a whale towards the boat.
  • It shows a member of an orca pod that helped only the Davidsons, and would thwart any other whalers' attempts to harpoon whales - the Davidsons would reward their 'assistants' by feeding them delicacies such as the lips and tongue of the harpooned whale.
  • It is an example of a member of an orca pod that joined with two other pods during this period to form one larger pod capable of herding humpback whales towards the whaling boat - although little is known about the social lives of orcas outside captivity, the hunting strategies of the killers of Twofold Bay indicate that pods can unite to form a permanent larger pod as well as work in partnership with humans.
  • It shows an orca whose usual diet includes seabirds, turtles, fish, sharks, whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea lions - orcas are highly efficient and cooperative hunters, feeding in groups of up to 20 animals, and will harry and kill baleen whales much larger than themselves.
  • It depicts an industry that has been prohibited in Australian waters since 1970 - the eastern Australian stocks of humpback whales, which hunting had reduced to only 200, have recovered by 11 per cent a year since hunting bans on the species were put in place; in 2005 their number was believed to be 7,000.
Year level

4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Charles Eden Wellings
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Charles Eden Wellings
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements