After it was reported that large concentrations of sperm whales could
be found in the waters off Japan in 1820,
dozens, and later hundreds, of New Bedford and Nantucket whalers set out across the Pacific to find them.
In 1842, the New Bedford whal er Parker was underway, north and west of H awaii, engaged in hunting whales “on Japan.”
It was a typical whaleship on a typical voyage, but the Parker’s route to the whaling grounds took her through the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
By 1842, this chain of atolls was well-known, but not necessarily accurately charted,
and ships’ navigators were not always able to plot accurate positions.
When a storm roared through the area late in September, th e Parker was caught in the middle of it.
That night, as her crew struggled to maintain the integrity of their vessel,
the ship struck the reef on the north side of Kure Atoll, the northernmost atoll in this arch ipelago.
In less than an hour, the ship became a total loss.
Her crew scrambled to save what food they could lay their hands on-a peck of beans and fifteen pounds of salted meat.
Breaking waves stove in their whaleboats, so the sailors fashioned a crude raft out of the ship’s masts and spars.
Though Ocean Island was in sight, it took eight days to drift and warp their makeshift raft to its shores.
Ocean Island provided little shelter, and there they discovered the ominous signs of previous castaways-the Gledstanes camp and a dog.
While the islands within the atoll provide little in natural resources for shipwrecked sailors, they are home to monk seals and tens of thousands of seabirds,
which provided food for the sailors during their seven-month stay on the island.
The Parker’s crew also secured wooden tallies to the legs of more than a hundred Laysan albatross, hoping the birds would be fo und by someone who could send a rescue ship.
After more than seven months on the beach, the captain and a few others were picked up by the ship f ames Stewart on 16 April 1843.
Two weeks later, a fellow New Bedford whaler, Nassau, sailed into view and saved the rest of the crew, landing them in Honolulu a short time later.
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