When Ships Hunted Whales, SF Bay Was Their Home

An illustration shows a whaling crew using a harpoon in a traditional hunt in the 19th century. Photo: Chronicle archive

By Gary Kamiya

San Francisco has been called the Paris of the West, but for decades it could have been called the New Bedford of the Pacific.

Between 1885 and 1905, San Francisco was the leading whaling port in the world, home to a fleet of dozens of ships and a major producer of refined whale oil, which was widely used for heat and lighting.