Fields Landing is a small, coastal community in Humboldt County. It is no longer a popular tourist destination, but there was a time when it received thousands of visitors every year. This was due to the fact that it was once the last remaining whaling station in the United States. Tourists would gather around to watch the whalers from Maritime Industries strip the blubber off of the whale's corpses. Whales were mostly hunted for their oil, which was used to lubricate machinery. Sperm whales were especially desirable by the whalers because a special cavity called spermaceti in their heads carries an ubiquitous amount of oil. By the 1940s, several international regulations restricted whaling practices. These included limiting whaling to seasons between April and November. Sperm whales were exempt from this rule and could be hunted year round. It was illegal to hunt mothers with calves. The practices used by the whalers were fairly brutal. Their harpoon tips contained a cast iron bomb, which would go off when it made contact with the whale. Yet even when whaling began declining globally, it still remained prevalent in Fields Landing. In 1948, sixty-seven whales were hunted and brought back to the Fields Landing dock, and tourists continued to pour in to marvel at the whalers. Proponents for whaling in Humboldt County claimed that eliminating whaling would hurt the fishing industry and the overall economy. Yet many in Fields Landing were opposed to the practice. In 1951, the citizens of Fields Landing wrote to the editor of The Times Standard, voicing their concerns about the rancid smell coming from the whaling dock. They had been promised that the whalers would keep the odor at bay, yet the potent stink was a constant bane to the citizens of Fields Landing. There were concerns about sanitation as well, seeing as masses of rats and flies were growing in numbers in Fields Landing. Yet their complaints were largely ignored by the health department, which claimed that, "A stink never killed anybody." Despite some controversy, whalers were revered as courageous, bold men by the local media. In one Humboldt Standard article from 1949, the author romanticized whaling by stating, "Whaling, like logging, is identified with the history, the tradition, the development, and the economy of Humboldt County... Like the loggers who wrestle with the giant redwoods, the whalers are the most rugged of our fishermen, who pit their strength and their courage against these gargantuan beasts of the sea."
According to NOAA, before the invasion of Europeans in Humboldt County, Fields Landing was within the Wiyot Nation's territory. The Wiyot People used local resources such as salmon, medicinal roots, and wildlife to sustain themselves. They were skilled basketry makers. Many of the Wiyot people were forcibly relocated to several reservations, and eventually to what is now the Table Bluff Reservation, which contains 88 acres of land roughly 10 miles south of Fields Landing. It wasn't until the 1800s that European settlers first arrived in Fields Landing. Some came in search of gold, but most were more focused on logging and agriculture. Unfortunately, the European quest for resources led to the displacement of the Wiyot People. In 1860, six Europeans paddled to Indian Island, which is across Humboldt bay, and killed Wiyot villagers in their sleep. This was one of many attacks on the Wiyot people by white settlers. Because of these attacks, what is known an "Indian Candlelight Vigil" is held every February on Indian Island to remember the lives that were lost due to these massacres.
Fields Landing is very different from what it used to be. It is currently a small community made up of less than 300 people. Though it is no longer a whaling station, the Fields Landing Dock still remains. People can take their boats out into Humboldt Bay from this dock. There is also a lovely picnic table overlooking the bay.
Sources: NOAA. "Fields Landing." 2000 Snowberger, Ernest. "There she blows!" September 26th, 1948. Humboldt Times No. 159 The Times Standard. May 10th, 1951. "Fields Landing Boosters State Whale Smell Case." Edward E. Creech. March 31st, 1949. "Humboldt Bay Whaling Boats Ready for Opening Season Friday." Humboldt Times Standard. Wiyot Nation. www.wiyot.us 2017.
Page developed by Caitlin Ehnow, Spring 2017 semester
The site is authored by Humboldt State University students in English-311 Environmental Writing. Instructors: Carly Marino, Special Collections Librarian and Dr. Janelle Adsit, Assistant Professor, English