Ulsan’s Whaling Heritage

By , January 8, 2013 4:19 pm


By Steve Roberts

During my time here in Ulsan, I have noticed that there are a lot sculptures, murals, light posts, and a myriad of other displays that are based on whales. This city’s history of industrial whale hunting has been dated back to the late 1800’s, though the Bangudae Petroglyphs show that there this was a whale hunting area as far back as the Neolithic period. The hunting of whales was a way of life for many Ulsanites until pressure from the rest of the world pretty much forced the ceasing of whaling operations in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Recently, the Korean government has made it illegal to kill whales for the sole purpose of stocking restaurants; however whales are still caught and end up on the menu, under the “scientific research” or “unintentional catch” loopholes. Politics aside,  I focused my observations on how the citizens of Ulsan have embraced this heritage and honor the past.

As I’ve ridden around the local area, I’ve notice some subtle, and some not-so-subtle reminders of this former way of life, from street light poles and drainage culvert covers, to massive stainless steel sculptures with exotic lights at night. Since I’m leaving soon to return home, I wanted to have a record of all the different ways this city has kept alive an important part of its past. To make sure that I got the most out of my quest I asked a good friend to go with me and point out anything I might have missed. She was gracious enough to show me where the Whaling Museum complex is; which if you‘re interested in more details of the history of the whaling industry, is a great place to visit. This is the address: Jangsaengpo Whale Museum and Whale Experience Hall 39-29 Maeam-dong, Nam-gu, Ulsan. (We also have an article on the Whale Museum here. Ed)

Here are the highlight photos of our trip around town, I realize that a few are actually dolphins or porpoises but it’s all relative in my opinion.

Our first stop was Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) campus; they have huge whale tails on each side of the bridge at the back entrance to the campus. By the way, the campus is beautifully laid out in a manner that exudes tranquility, peace and calmness. The surrounding hills that seclude the facility are absolutely beautiful.

Our next stop was the KTX Train station and the huge abstract sculpture of a whale coming out of the ground:

From there we went to the Taehwa river park area, where there is a sculpted dolphin water fountain, (and portable restrooms that play classical music but, no I didn’t photograph that).

While we were at the park, we went down to the river which was partially frozen, and I took probably the nicest picture of the whole day.

Onward with the quest, we proceeded through some of the industrial areas of Ulsan on our way to the Whaling Museum.

Some stainless steel dolphins …

A storm drain culvert cover…

A bronze dolphin and girl…

A huge whale over the ticket booth…

I think this is supposed to be a Polynesian child riding a dolphin…

More dolphins…

Three whales jumping through hoops…

I wonder if this is supposed to symbolize the standard Korean attitude of “hurry, hurry, I’m in a rush”?

Artistically decorated handrail…

Dolphin-bodied lamp post…

Whale-tail clock tower

Sculpted marble…

A wall of whales and dolphins…

Close-up…

Across the street from the Whale Museum, there is this tiled mosaic.

These Whales in various stages of swimming are next to many roads throughout Ulsan.

This fuel storage tank overlooks the harbor near the museum…

I am not sure what this is supposed to signify, but it was eye-catching to say the least…

More leaping whales along the road, different colors…

Signage across one of the roads that lead to the museum.

The Munsu Sports complex intersection has a large stainless steel whale that appears to be riding the crest of a wave; it is well lit up at night, very artistic…

…another view of the sculpture at night.

I am sure that there are many more items that I did not photograph, but I think is a good representation of how the residents of Ulsan have paid respect to their history.

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