Whales and whaling have featured prominently in New Zealand’s economic and cultural life over the centuries. And most, if not all, of that history, is embedded in and scattered throughout the larger museum collections in New Zealand.
However there is no single organisation or museum which devotes its entire organisation to that natural, cultural and social history and its current manifestations in all its richness and in depth.
While the National Museum and subsequently its offspring, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, have always had a specialist, largely scientific, brief in this area and has recently addressed the wider issues associated with whales and whaling in its touring exhibition Tohorā, it and the small museums at Butler Point and Kaikoura are the exception.
In other words there is no natural home for the ideas and objects connected to our cetacean, whale and whaling history or more importantly ideas and issues pertaining to the marine biodiversity of New Zealand , the Pacific and the Southern Oceans.
Given our rich history and diverse range of knowledge residing in various academic, research and commercial enterprises as well as in the private domain throughout the country, it is the intention of the NWC Development Trust to create an information network and eventually a physical entity which can operate as a central information, research and education portal.
The reason that Picton and the Marlborough Sounds are the catalyst for this project would be obvious to most people with some knowledge of New Zealand’s pre-European and post-contact whaling activities.
Not only was the Sounds area the epicentre of 19th and early 20th century whaling enterprises, it also has the only substantial refurbished whaling station in the country near Tory Channel, recently refurbished by the Department of Conservation with the help of many of the ex-whalers.
In addition to identifiable and extant shore-based whaling sites at nearby Kaikoura and Port Underwood, Tory Channel was the scene of the most intensive whaling operations in New Zealand until commercial whaling ceased in 1964.
Given the large number of these extant sites within a comfortable radius of Picton, it would seem obvious that a National Whale Centre situated in Picton is as logical as it is to have America’s best known whaling museum in New Bedford.
The Centre’s Vision is:
- To further knowledge of and about cetaceans, with an emphasis on whales, whaling history and the ocean ecosystems through information, research and exhibition programmes and through such programmes explore local, national and international histories and tell and share the stories with as wide a public as possible thus contributing to future sustainable marine environments
- To engage young people and their parents in the journeys we endeavour to undertake.
A museum without walls/ an information hub
Since the earlier presentation of a National Whale Museum concept in 2007, there has been a significant shift away from the notion of a “bricks and mortar” and collections based organisation.
As a first step the National Whale Centre intends to attract and engage its potential constituency through its blog and subsequently website, concentrating on the sharing of ideas, information, activities and links with like-minded organisations, and be a more dynamic and contemporary organisation looking to the future that can:
- Engage a younger generation with issues concerning marine bio- diversity
- Act as an information hub on all matters pertaining to cetaceans, marine biodiversity and sustainable aquacultural ventures
- Establish links between national and international museums and organisations involved in research and issues pertaining to whales, dolphins and porpoises and related environmental concerns
- Create opportunities for people to share experiences, activities and information no matter where they are in the world and in the process connect them with their local organisations while maintaining contact with the National Whale Centre
- Engage with issues and research pertaining to cetaceans by informing participants with a range of information and viewpoints that allow informed debate and discussion
- Share the relationship Māori society, both pre- and post-contact, has had with whales and whaling
- Share the history of New Zealand’s whale and whaling history through the unique position Picton and the Marlborough Sounds have held as the epicentre of New Zealand’s shore based whaling industry until 1964
Stage 1 of the centre’s programme aims to:
- Create the relevant information hub structure in order to engage with its supporters and future members
- Develop designs for a container centre to be sited on the Picton foreshore which will act as a promotional, hi-tech information centre for those visiting or passing through Picton
- Develop educational and community based activities for children and their parents as well as school communities that can be undertaken no matter whether in Riverton, Kaitaia or Anchorage
- Act as a conduit through which whaling history memorabilia can be channeled to the appropriate collecting institutions
- With the provision of a ready-made venue, courtesy of Port Marlborough, the Trust has opened a Display and Development Centre on the Picton Foreshore as an active display and information centre.
- Create a more permanent facility for the display of temporary exhibitions for local and other venues and operate as an active new media and research info-hub
The National Whale Centre Development Trust is precisely that- a development trust charged with the creation of a long term and sustainable National Whale Centre sited in one of the world’s most exciting and relevant maritime locations in the world. The nature and success of its short-term activities will lay the groundwork for a sustainable, relevant and dynamic organisation that will contribute to the dialogues we all need to engage in.