Visit to the Whale Museum

While others travelled from much closer to Caniçal another small group met and set off in one vehicle from the Arco roundabout heading for Caniçal but not before we had been smothered by clouds of thick, black, acrid, smoke belching from the new tunnel linking Arco and Madalena do Mar. (We read, Later, that a lorry had caught fire some way into the tunnel). Fire and other emergency services were on the scene but there was no immediate support. The firewater mains, had not been installed. We used the old road to get through to Madalena do Mar.

Passing by Funchal on a bright and sunny day we drove alongside the airport and, for some, on to new territory. The motorway embankments were covered in red Bougainvillea and also Swans’ Neck Agaves in well manicured grass.

Moving on towards Caniçal the nature of the topography changed as well and instead of Bougainvilleas there were more drought resistant Pride of Madeira bushes.

We found our way to the Museum and were concerned that more signposting would be useful.

The Museum is a modern, cubic building which lies next to the sea in an area surrounded by cliffs covered, again, in tough scrub plants. In contrast there were vineyards of well trained plants alongside the road.

Inside the museum, reception was by smart uniformed ladies who coped politely and efficiency with our various forms of payment and the issuing of high-tech information delivery units. Base unit hung on the neck with headphones. Took a bit of time to get the hang of them and being fully automatic these units “knew” where we were and switched to the relevant audio presentation when we were in front of the display.

The display halls were high ceilinged and well lit and our way to them was by passing large photographs introducing the history of whaling.

The main display hall had full scale models of whales suspended from the ceiling. Models of whaling boats and their equipment to accommodate four rowers, spotter and a harpoon man could be inspected and photographs of later more powerful steam driven ships showed the development of the technology. There is a beautifully detailed model of a German harpoon gun whale hunter. This technology stopped all fair play in the catching of whales.

Many photographs abound to tell the history of catching whales from the earliest days of the six man rowing boats where the technology was very simple and then up to the time when sophisticated whaling technology was eventually abandoned here on Madeira.

The use of steam powered winches and grabs moved the huge whales about or helped to pull the layers off the animals and the various “components” of the whales were outlined and those pieces of technology used to access blubber and “Head Oil” and ambergris used to fix perfumes of which a comment on the audio system said that the fragrance the ladies used on themselves and their clothes was nothing less than whale pooh!

Lovely sepia reproductions as portrait pictures are to be seen on the “Whalers’ Wall”.

Film shows in different areas displayed under sea life alongside the whales, others were in 3D and displayed avatars of merpeople in the depths of the sea.

There’s a Yellow Submarine, (but not the Beatles one!), which describes under sea life, again in 3D vision.

Many static displays showed relics of equipment: hooks, harpoons, cutting tools, products and scenes of whale hunting.

Some fifteen or so travelled on to Quinta Do Lorde for coffee or lunch.