Carl Larsen began this processing station in 1904 after discovering a whale-filled, sheltered bay. The name in Norwegian means “the pot cove” from animal melting try-pots that sealers left behind.
The first year, Larsen’s company never had to leave the bay to harvest whales because there were so many. They took 183. (Keep note of this number.) In 1906, the Governor of the Falklands attempted to regulate the industry with laws requiring: no harvesting of females with calves, no rare Right whales, only two “catcher” boats per station, and mandatory use of every part of the kill.
The arrival of factory ships at sea destroyed any hopes for sustainable harvesting. What happens at sea, stays at sea. Fifty years later, Grytviken harvested 53,761 whales and many of those mammals were taken by unlicensed sources. (Quite an increase from #183!) Whale oil sold as high as 90 British pounds sterling for each metric ton. This was during WWII, when blubber was used in the production of nitroglycerin.
At one time, 500 men worked here rendering whales and seals into oil, meat, or fertilizer. Senior officials and Larsen raised their families here. It would have been a rough place for children. Although Larsen had a church built, a Lutheran pastor made the comment, “Religious life among whalers leaves much to be desired.”
Potatoes were stored in the church for a time and movies shown there until the cinema was built. On our tour, we were told that alcohol was forbidden, but the commissary had a booming sale in perfume. At first, officials thought the men offset the stench of the killing field. Later, it was discovered the men drank the perfume to get buzzed.
Whaling continued here through 1964 ( by the Japanese), but the outpost became a victim of its own success. Without measures to protect what they harvested, the number of whales dropped. WW11 also saw advances in new products and technology, essentially making whaling obsolete. The Fur and Elephant weaners are quite at home here now.
Today, Grytviken is maintained by the South Georgia Heritage Trust with a terrific museum and the last post office before the seventh continent. You can buy liquor here now–a nice bottle of South Georgia scotch in the gift shop.
When we returned to the ship, the 20-or-so summer residents of Grytviken joined us on deck for a fantastic BBQ