In January 2009, a mass stranding of sperm whales occurred on Perkins Island near Smithton. A large scale rescue effort was initiated but was unsuccessful in re-floating any of the 48 stranded whales.
A similar event occurred in February 1911 when a school of 37 whales were stranded on the same island.
On hearing the news, the renown Tasmanian photographer, Stephen Spurling, made his way to Smithton to view the beached whale. Upon arrival, Spurling described the scene as follows:
“Upon arrival at Smithton we found all the local world and their wives, their sisters (and other people’s sisters), cousins, aunts, to say nothing of the children were waiting to embark per medium of something floating to go and see the whales. Several motor launches, sailing and rowing boats were doing the trips and carrying full passenger lists on every trip.”
Later after the viewing the whales, Spurling remarked, “Many were the expression of wonderment as to the cause of the stranding of the school, as it would be difficult to imagine a smoother or more gradually shelving beach than the one on which they be. We saw them at low tide, the water being 50 yards away from the carcasses, but as one walked the sand oozed not water, but oil, green sickly vile smelling oil, which soaked out from the bulky masses of blubber. One farmer pointed sadly to them and remarked that there was £70,000 going to waste.”
Later a company known as Smithton Whaling Company was formed for the purpose of extracting the ambergris from the whales and this was stored in barrels and shipped to London. Unfortunately for the company, the content of the barrels were found to be worthless.
Check out the eHeritage website to see more photos.