In the period covered by the press cuttings below, food was a scarce commodity and any additional food resources were greatly valued. Local people would stay alert to sightings of whales in the sea lochs and would rally the local community to action when the opportunity arose. Sometimes the unfortunate animals would beach themselves, and other times they were secured by impromptu whale drives by local fishing boats that drove the whales inshore where they could be captured. Then the business of harvesting the blubber, meat and bones could begin. Under these circumstances, capturing and harvesting the whales was very much a whole community effort.
Browsing the British Newspaper Archive we come across little snapshots of this largely forgotten aspect of life in Kinloch. They show that when the opportunity presented itself, any available persons would endeavour to trap and dispatch the whales with whatever tools they had to hand.
Take this article from The Scotsman in 1939 for example, concerning crofters from Airidhbhruaich.
Likewise, this article from the Aberdeen Press and Journal from 1911 highlights that whaling was an activity involving the whole township, in this case Balallan, so prized was the oil by the resident wool spinners.
One fascinating article from the North Devon Gazette in 1898 records an instance of a whale sighting when most of the men of Balallan were occupied on the moors, leaving the women and whoever else was available to secure the catch.
Articles such as these offer glimpses into what must have been extremely tiring and deeply unpleasant work. They all highlight that such whale drives took some considerable time, and the work wasn’t over once the animals were secured. The harvesting of the blubber would have been no small task.
On display at the Kinloch Historical Society Museum is this large whale vertebra, which serves as a reminder of this once important aspect of island life.