Maritime Heritage header graphic
Whaling Heritage Symposium
Sponsored by NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries, Maritime Heritage Program June 16-18, 2008
June 16-17: Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut
June 18: New Bedford Whaling Museum and New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, New Bedford, Massachusetts

Description | Goals | Themes | Location and Dates | Events | Registration
Travel and Accommodations | Host and Sponsor Institutions

morgan houses
The Charles W. Morgan, the world's oldest whaling vessel, docked at Mystic Seaport. (Courtesy of Mystic Seaport)

The pursuit of whales, which involved ocean exploration, cultural contacts, and even an emerging conservation awareness, is an epic story of global dimensions. Stemming from involvement with resource preservation and seafaring heritage, NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program, along with its partners, seeks to enhance our understanding of crucial aspects of the whaling past. The Whaling Heritage Symposium, set in historic Mystic Seaport and New Bedford, will examine the links between the history and the science of whales and whaling heritage.

Symposium Description: NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program, along with Mystic Seaport, New Bedford Whaling Museum, and New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, will sponsor a 3-day whaling heritage symposium.  The symposium will be organized along selected themes and will feature cultural practitioners, authors, archaeolo­gists, historians, curators, marine resource managers and others…noted specialists associated within each of the selected fields.  The event will offer the public and professional alike the opportunity to examine the broader cultural scope of historic whaling, the significance of specific events and geographic locations in the industry’s history, and the ways we can continue to learn from our own whaling heritage.  The proposed schedule includes plenary presentations, speaker panel sessions, public talks, tours, dinners and receptions.  There will be a registration fee of $175.  The event will also offer out-of-town visitors one of their last chances to go on board the Charles W. Morgan before the historic ship, the world’s oldest whaling vessel, is placed in dry dock in November.

Goals Statement: Historic whaling and whaling heritage encompass a broad spectrum of marine knowledge. Elements of ocean exploration, cultural studies, biology, oceanography, and even the emerging conservation awareness can all be found within the topic of whaling. For many of the nation's museums and libraries, the archival documents, artifacts, and historic vessels are windows into this whaling past. Shipwrecks provide a particularly unique type of physical record, rare glimpses of the industry in the context of specific historic locations. In the United States, many of these fall within the National Marine Sanctuaries, which feature the history of a variety of different whaling cultures, and protect many different whaling vessel wreck sites. NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program, therefore, supports historical and archaeological research into maritime and whaling topics. Stemming from this involvement with resource preservation and heritage, the Maritime Heritage Program, along with its partners, seeks to enhance our appreciation for whales and for whaling heritage, and expand our understanding of our past and present relationship to the sea.

whaling illustration
This sperm whaling scene by an anonymous American whaler, from the middle 1830's is one of a series of nine outstanding documentary artworks by the same artist. Watercolor on paper, 9 5/8 x 12 inches. (Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. NBW #1938.79.1)

Whaling Heritage Themes:

  • Indigenous whalers and 19th-early 20th century cultural interactions
  • The history and archaeology of whaling: where heritage trails meet
  • New directions in whaling heritage research


Location and Dates:

  • Preliminary reception and steamboat cruise on the evening of June 15, 2008 at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut. 
  • Symposium presentations and activities at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut (June 16-17)--and New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts (June 18). 

Symposium Special Events:

  • Steamboat Sabino cruise June 15:  Symposium participants will have an opportunity to join a 90-minute evening steamboat cruise on the historic Sabino.  Reception on board includes a cash bar.  Openings are limited to early registrants.  Early arrivals may also gather at the Seamen’s Inne at Mystic Seaport. 
  • Presentations June 16-18:  Twelve plenary session presentations addressing the main themes will be distributed throughout day one and day two of the symposium at Mystic Seaport, Mystic Connecticut.  Final presentations, walking tour, and speakers' panel will be held on day three at New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts.  There will be ample time for questions, discussions, breaks, a tour of the historic whaler Charles W. Morgan, etc
  • Additional talks:  Film maker Ric Burns will present the keynote talk at the symposium dinner on the evening of Monday, June 16th at the Greenmanville Church at Mystic Seaport.  Whaling Historian Klaus Barthelmess will give an informal lunchtime talk at New Bedford Whaling Museum on Wednesday, June 18th.  Librarian and Maritime Historian Michael Dyer and Park Ranger Jennifer Gonsalves will present "A Trip Around the World in the Words and Pictures of the Sailor's Themselves" based on rare documents from the NBWM Research Library on Wednesday, June 18th
  • Speaker Panels:  In addition to the plenary presentations, the symposium includes two speaker panel sessions.  The first will address “directions in ethnographic research” on Tuesday, June 17th at Mystic Seaport.  The second, “whaling heritage: setting the course for future preservation,” will be held on Wednesday, June 18th, at New Bedford Whaling Museum. 
  • Dinners:  There will be two whaling heritage symposium dinners.  The first will feature a barbeque at the Boatshed on Lighthouse Point, followed by a keynote speech at the Greenmanville Church of Mystic Seaport on Monday evening, June 16th.  The second will be the symposium “closing” dinner at the Rodman Candleworks in New Bedford and be held on Wednesday, June 18th.  Dinner following the NOAA reception on Tuesday, June 17th, will be “on you own.” 
  • NOAA Reception:  NOAA’s Maritime Heritage Program will host a symposium reception on the evening of Tuesday, June 17th outside of the new exhibit, “Frozen In: The Inuit of Hudson Bay and Captain George Comer.”
  • Tours:  Mystic Seaport will host a tour of the historic whaler Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in the world, on Monday, June 16th.  Mystic Seaport will also provide a tour of its Collections Research Center on Tuesday, June 17th.  New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park will organize a walking tour of sites and features within New Bedford’s cultural landscape on Wednesday afternoon, June 18th

Please print out and complete the attached registration form and mail to:
Central Reservations/Mystic Seaport
75 Greenmanville Avenue
PO Box 6000
Mystic, CT 06355-0990

For questions regarding registration please contact: Danielle Anderson
phone: 860-572-5322
fax: 860-572-5398

Travel and Accommodations:



  • Greyhound Bus has scheduled stops in New London, about a 15 minute cab ride to Mystic.

Hotels – Blocks of Rooms at the following hotels:

Other Information:

For interested symposium participants visiting the New England area, the Nantucket Historical Association will provide a tour of the NHA whaling museum on Thursday, June 19th, 2008 beginning at 11:00 AM. Participants must contact Collections Manager Tony Dumitru ( or 508-228-1894) at the Nantucket Historical Association by May 30th to arrange/confirm the visit.  Details regarding transportation to the Nantucket Whaling Museum will be available at the symposium.   

New Bedford:

  • Carpooling is highly suggested when the conference moves to New Bedford.  There will be a carpool sign up sheet at the registration table at Mystic Seaport on Monday.
  • Additionally, Mystic Seaport has two minivans that will be available to bring people both to and from New Bedford on that Wednesday.  Sign up sheet will be at the registration table as well.

Host and Sponsor Institutions:

sanctuaries logoNOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program-- NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program, supported within the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, is committed to preserving historical, cultural and archaeological resources within our nation’s system of Marine Sanctuaries and National Marine Monument. The Maritime Heritage Program's mission is to protect, promote and explore our maritime heritage through a national program embracing heritage resources in our evolving coastal, marine and Great Lakes stewardship.  The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, is co-sponsor of the whaling heritage symposium. 

National Maritime Historical Society logoNational Maritime Historical Society –The National Maritime Historical Society's mission is to preserve and perpetuate the maritime history of the United States and to invite all Americans to share in the challenging heritage of seafaring.

mystic seaport logoMystic Seaport – The Museum of America and the Sea – is the nation’s leading maritime museum. Located on 19 acres along the banks of the historic Mystic River, the Museum is home to four National Historic Landmark vessels, including the Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship in the world. Mystic Seaport also features a working preservation shipyard, a re-created coastal village, formal exhibit galleries and a planetarium. 

new bedford whaling museum logoNew Bedford Whaling Museum — The New Bedford Whaling Museum is the largest museum in America devoted to the history of the American whaling industry and its greatest port. Through exhibits, publications, and programs, the Museum brings to life the whaling era and the history of the local area. It houses the most extensive collection of art, artifacts, and manuscripts pertaining to American whaling in the age of sail - late eighteenth century to the early twentieth, when sailing ships dominated merchant trade and whaling. 

national park service logoNew Bedford Whaling National Historical Park — Congress established New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in 1996 to commemorate the American whaling industry and its contribution to our nation’s history.  During the mid-19th century New Bedford was the whaling capital of the world.  New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park represents a new model in the National Park Service: preservation and education are achieved, not through federal ownership, but through partnerships.  Together, park partners preserve New Bedford’s historic landscapes, structures and collections and promote research and educational programming associated with the history of whaling.  The park interprets the global reach of New Bedford’s whaling trades through partnerships in regions visited by the city’s whaling fleet.  Locally, the park functions as a source of community identity and pride and fosters a climate in which community initiatives and collaborations are encouraged.

noaa logoNOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service--NOAA Fisheries Service is dedicated to the stewardship of living marine resources through science-based conservation and management, and the promotion of healthy ecosystems.  As a steward, NOAA Fisheries Service conserves, protects, and manages living marine resources in a way that ensures their continuation as functioning components of marine ecosystems, affords economic opportunities, and enhances the quality of life for the American public.  The National Marine Fisheries Service, with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, is co-sponsor of the whaling heritage symposium. 

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