Image Humpback whale carcass, Tangalooma Whaling Station, c1957 - item 1 of 2

TLF ID R8170

This is a colour photograph showing the carcass of a southern humpback whale ('Megaptera novaengliae') on the wooden slipway of the Tangalooma Whaling Station on Moreton Island in Queensland. The whale is intact with its underside uppermost, showing distinctive colourings and markings, including the ventral grooves. Onlookers, including two young boys and a man who may be a station worker, observe the whale from a short distance. A wide expanse of water is in the background with a strip of land visible across the horizon.

Educational details

Educational value
  • The photograph shows a newly killed humpback whale awaiting processing at the onshore Tangalooma Whaling Station. On being killed by explosive harpoon, the whales were inflated, towed back to the Station and winched onto the flensing deck. The whale would then be dismantled and its blubber cut into long strips. All bone, meat and blubber would be cut to fit into the factory digesters, where it would be cooked under steam pressure and the oil collected.
  • The whale's white belly confirms that it is a southern humpback. Southern humpback whales have considerably more white colouration on the belly extending onto the flanks than northern humpbacks. In both populations adults measure an average of 14-15 m and have a minimum life span of 20-25 years. They feed almost exclusively on small crustaceans (krill), their baleen bristles acting as a sieve. Males communicate via highly complex songs.
  • The Tangalooma Whaling Station and factory, based on Moreton Island close to the annual migratory routes of the whales and to the port of Brisbane, was a mainstay of the Australian whaling industry from 1952 to 1962. It operated 24 h a day, seven days a week during its best seasons and its catch was originally worth some $30 million annually. Catch numbers began to fall from 1960 and as a result the Station had become economically unviable by 1962.
  • The southern humpback carcass seen here was one of 6,277 harvested and processed by the Station during its ten years of operation. Limitations on the Station's catch included an annual quota from the Australian and Qld governments of 500 whales, later increased to 700, in the whaling season from 1 May to 31 October. Whales were required to be more than 10.5 m long and no mothers and calves were to be taken.
  • The onlookers in the photograph probably include some of the tourists who often came by boat to see the operations of the Station, revealing how what was acceptable to one generation can become largely abhorrent to another. The tourist groups included primary school groups taken to learn a 'real-life lesson' (Courier-Mail 1955, cited in Wiseman, 'The slaughter at Tangalooma', Courier-Mail, 18 November 2007). Ironically, the Station is once again a tourist resort but now it offers whale-watching tours.
  • All parts of the whale were used, with the three main products being whale oil, baleen (whalebone) and whale meal. Oil, the most valuable product, was sent overseas and used in margarine and other edible fat products. The baleen was also exported and used in the fashion industry while the high-protein whale meal was used as livestock fodder throughout Australia.
Year level

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

Learning area
  • Science
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Rosemary Spenceley
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Rosemary Spenceley
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Address: QLD, 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
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgments