As the site of the first shore-based station on mainland Australia, whaling was an integral part of Eden for almost a century. However, it was the remarkable cooperative relationship between the whalers in their open boats and the pods of killer whales (Orcinus Orca) that frequented Twofold Bay that made the local enterprise so outstanding.
And of the many Orcas that hunted with Eden’s whalers, Old Tom was undoubtedly the best known. Measuring 22 feet (6.7 metres) in length and weighing six tons, he was leader of one of the pods that herded passing whales into the bay, alerted the whalers and took part in the chase. Recognised by his distinctly tall dorsal fin, Old Tom regularly swum to the mouth of the Kiah and “flop-tailed” to signal the presence of a whale. He also often accompanied the boats during a chase, sometimes taking the rope in his teeth to tow the vessel. Evidence of this can be seen in the distinctive wear patterns on the teeth of his lower jaw.
Considered by the whalers as a bit of a joker for his humorous and sometimes annoying antics, Old Tom was known to jump on the rope fastened to a harpooned whale, hanging onto it with his teeth to be towed around like a sea anchor by the injured beast.
Old Tom returned to Eden season after season, sometimes alone, until on 17 September 1930, his body was found floating in the bay. After local resident and Davidson neighbour J. R. Logan suggested cleaning, preparing, and mounting his skeleton for public exhibition, George Davidson towed Tom’s remains to the Kiah try works where he and his son Wallace undertook the work. A new chapter in the tale of the Killers of Twofold Bay had commenced – the Eden Killer Whale Museum.