Ballast Point Beginning

Mariners, South Pacific bound, first visited San Diego in the 1820s and the gray whales became in danger, shore whaling begins. Two Portuguese-American brothers arrived in San Diego in 1857. One year later, Captain Packard and his brother set up shore-whaling operations at Ballast Point. They were joined by Africans, Irish, Spaniards, Mexicans and Englishmen. Ballas Point quickly became a major whaling hub with additional camps stationed in Baja California.

It’s rumored that Captain Packard and his brother continued whaling operations for four years. There is another whaling station that may have been close to the Packards, also on Ballas Point—perhaps at Whaleman’s Bight. The station at Whaleman’s Bight is believed to have been commanded by Captain Johnson.

In 1869, the United States Government took Ballas Point for military, quarantine and lighthouse purposes. As a result, the Packard brothers are believed to have moved their whaling company further south to Santo Tomas. It’s during this period that shore whaling in San Diego was believed to have come to an end. Or did it?

Shore Whaling still in Operation

According to a representative (C.H. Townsend) of the U.S. Fish Commission Bulletin, the San Diego whaling station was in operation for many years. He registered the number of whales taken at Ballas Point taken from 1883 to 1886. This would clearly imply that a Ballas Point whaling station was still in operation, whether it was the Packard’s or another company. Whaling operations for the Packard’s may have continues at another location in San Diego Bay. Or, the whaling station at Whaleman’s Bight remained in the hands of Captain Johnson.

C.H. Townsend arrived at San Diego in 1886 and had the impression that the whaling companies had abandoned a good two years before his arrival. While the exact location of the shore whaling stations was a mystery, he notes that whaling was abandoned a good two years before his arrival. During the 1850s, whaling in San Diego Bay may have assumed its most important role. Much of the whaling may have been carried on from ships in the bay. In 1868, San Diego Bay’s whaling business had grown to a point where San Diegans would visit the Bay’s lighthouse just to watch the chase.

From 1870-1871, the industry yielded 21,800 gallons of whale oil. From 1871-72, the yield had more than doubled, to 55,000 gallons. During the 1880s, whaling for oil finally became unprofitable, and San Diego whaling was abandoned.

There’s some fascinating history surrounding Ballast Point and whale hunting during the middle and late 1800s. While it’s impossible to travel back in time to get an exact account of the events, you can experience the amazing spectacle of watching the gray whale’s yearly migration off the coasts of San Diego. It’s a great felling to know that gray whales are now a protected species that will exist for countless generations to come.

Contact us at or phone us at 619-987-0663 to learn more about whale-watching tours. We’re located at 2240 Shelter Drive, San Diego, CA 92106.

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