Sep 282020

There are many stories of animals interacting with humans, but a brutal arrangement was evident in the early whaling practises at Eden, NSW.

Today the skeleton of 'Tom' the killer whale is a fascinating tale of trust and betrayal.

Tom faithfully returned to Eden each year as part of a killer whale pod who hunted whales with resident Homo sapiens. They blocked off the escape routes of migratory wales, who they then chased around the bay until the whales were thoroughly exhausted. Then, close to the shoreline, the pod thrashed the water with their tails to signal the whalers to harvest the whales. The pods share the 4 ton tongues (of no use to the whalers) and their lips.

An extraordinary event is recorded involving a young man and his family who perished in a small boat that capsized due to a sudden squall. His family tragically all drowned and the bodies were recovered except the father. Tom, aware of the body's location wedged under a rock entangled in seaweed, continually circled the area for days trying to attract the attention of the whalers. Finally he joined up the entire pod in a grand display, which led the whalers to the body. A few days later the recovered body was buried at sea witnessed by the killers.

But on occasions the over-enthusiastic killer whales became temporarily beached. One fateful day a stranger rushed into the water with his gun and shot it dead. The traumatised whales hastily left the bay, never to return. However, Tom (and a few of the other whales did finally return). Locals concluded that Tom must have persuaded the pod that the stranger was unconnected to the community of whalers.

The final betrayal occurred with a change in captaincy of the whaler boat, who decided he was not going to cut out the tongue for Tom. He ignored the warning from the crew "Tom is not going to like that, he’s likely to turn nasty and I don't blame him!" As they began to tow the whale to the shore, Tom grasped the rope in his mouth with such force it was as if a hand had reached out and shook the boat in fury. A tug of war ensued. The skipper ordered full throttle ahead until they witnessed an amazing sight. The rope had apparently caught around one of Tom’s teeth which finally gave way as it was dislodged and sank into the sea bed. Tragically the tooth cavity became infected with an abscess and, unable to hunt, Tom died of starvation. His body was washed up on the foreshore. It was decided to preserve his skeleton.

The missing tooth is evident, and even the jaw has markings that are the exact same size as that of the rope and harpoon lines. This can be seen today at the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

If you want to know more, watch this 10-minute video.