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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Jangsaengpo Port: Ulsan’s Whaling Past, Present and Future

Jangsaengpo Port

Those of you eagerly anticipating the annual Ulsan Whale Festival will no doubt be feeling a little let down at the moment as news filters out that it’s been postponed until July 1st. As one of the only events around that distinguishes between people who love whales and people who love whales on toast, you might be currently asking yourself where you’re going to go now to get your fix of ancient whaling culture and whale d’oeuvres. The answer is the port area of Jangsaengpo,  around 20 minutes by bus from Samsan-dong.

Jangsaengpo is the traditional home of all things related to ‘inviting’ a whale back for afternoon tea by jamming a pointy stick in its skin and dragging it to shore. It’s a practice that was carried out in this very area over hundreds of years, and one that is recorded in great detail in the Bangudae Petroglyphs near Eonyang. These days things are a little quieter on the whaling front but you can still head down to the port to visit the whale museum, go on a whale-watching cruise or (if you’re that way inclined) nibble on various parts of a whale’s body.

Jangsaengpo Whale Emporium

The Jangsaengpo Whale Museum (9am – 6pm, Tues – Sun) provides us with a view back to a time when whaling was a major industry in Ulsan. These days whaling itself is illegal in Korea unless the whale ends up as ‘by-catch’, a product of being caught in fisherman’s nets. This is the official story anyway, whether or not fisherman are tempted to set their lines illegally to increase their chances of ‘accidentally’ catching a (financially quite rewarding) whale is an argument for another time. And probably not one you should have in line to purchase tickets for the whale museum.

Unfortunately they got this guy just before he made it to the bus stop...and freedom.

You can get your tickets to the whale museum from the rather distinctive-looking ticket booth on the harbor-side. Form two orderly lines underneath the bodysurfing whale and before you know it you’ll be the proud owner of an access all areas pass to three floors of whale(ing) memorabilia and information.  If you can convince the person at the ticket booth you’re a ‘person of national merit’ you’ll get in for free. If that doesn’t work try convincing them you’re an Ulsan resident, a much easier proposition, and you’ll enjoy a 500 won discount on the full price.

Whale graffiti on the way to the Whale Experience building

Look down in the pool...is it a whale!?...is it a dolphin!?

You have the option of exploring two buildings at the Whale Museum – the Exhibition Building and the Whale Experience Building. If you would like to explore the latter you’ll have to ask for an extra ticket at the booth on your way in. Our first port of call was the 4D Whale Experience room. Here you can experience what life was like back in the day when people used to live in submarines and get chased by giant squid, before being saved by an equally large Beluga whale. It was a bit like being a Snork. As you probably know, 4D means you get to feel like you’re immersed in the action. Not only do you get the impression you’re about to be hit in the face by a squid tentacle, you also get sprayed with a watery mist that may or may not be whale urine.

Installation celebrating the passage of the whale through the human digestive tract

Probably the most confronting display at the whale museum is the collection of whale and dolphin fetuses in the Whale Experience building. If you’d find that sort of thing a little too difficult to handle then avoid the first room on the right as you enter the building at all costs. The room doubles as a dolphin-viewing area, but you’ll be able to see them in the afore-mentioned tunnel or upstairs as well.

The main building at the whale museum is home to three floors of information on the old whaling practices of the area and educational resources to help us understand more about the whales that inhabit this particular part of the world. Once you’re past the ticket office at the entrance on the 2nd floor you’ll find yourself dwarfed by a huge skeleton of a Bryde’s whale hanging from the roof. This floor contains quite a bit of information on the area’s whaling history, a replica of the Bangudae Petroglyphs, quite a few whale bones and artifacts, and (in what seems to be a common theme) some guy pointing a harpoon at them. Fortunately his eyesight seems to be pretty poor as he’s pointing it in the general direction of the petroglyphs.

Keeping watch

At least he was happy when he went!

On the 3rd floor of the main building you’ll find information on the Gray Whale including a sound bite of its cry, a model of its full body and skull and a video showing its feeding patterns. “Enough of all this touchy-feely stuff, what do they taste like?”, I hear you cry. They’ve included pictures and models of a whale processing facility, a fat-rendering mill and a diagram showing us what different parts of a whale’s body can be used for, so if you accidentally catch one you’ll know what to do. You can basically follow the natural life-cycle of a Gray Whale from birth to becoming soap. After this it’s down the stairs to the cheerily named ‘Children’s Adventure Hall’ on the 1st floor.

How to get oil from a whale

In the kids area the education gets ramped up a notch and the nastier stuff gets left behind somewhat. You can find out lots of information about many different whales and find out what goes into their stomachs. The answer, amongst other things, is you. You’ll be looking from the inside out as plankton and other fishy things line the walls of the replica whale stomach. You can also compare the difference in weight between you and a whale and check out the ecology lab. If you’re brave you can enter the mysteriously named ‘Date Room’. I have no idea what’s in there, but it’s either a place to go and canoodle with a loved one or a room full of whale’s bums*.

*‘Date’ is Australian slang for ‘bum’ – something for the lessons this week.

If you’ve been inspired to try to get up close to one of the local whales after visiting the museum you can try a whale-watching tour, they leave from a dock about 100m back up the road from the entrance to the museum. From April to October the tours run on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 1pm. If you’re an Ulsan resident the prices are 20,000 won for adults and 10,000 won for children. If you organize a group of 20 or more a special discount applies and you’ll pay 15,000 won and 7000 won respectively.

The Whale watching vessel: Don't expect to be let on if you bring a knife and fork

On the other hand, if you’ve been inspired to engage in a bit of scientific research on the local whales with a pair of chopsticks, then you just have to wander across the road to one of the many whale meat restaurants lining the harbor. There’s one directly opposite the museum. Whale meat’s not cheap though, so be prepared to pay a bit of money to taste something unusual.

Wondering (scientifically) about the effects of whale on the tongue? This street attempts to answer all your questions.

A whale-eating institute across from the museum

After my visit to the museum I took a walk down the main street. The message you get from the museum, whale-watching tour and whale meat restaurants all in the same area is a somewhat confusing one, so I thought I’d just wander around and take in the harbor. On the way back to the car I spotted this happy-go-lucky little fellow:

Enjoying Anonymity

 At that point it kind of dawned on me what Jangsaengpo Port was all about. Sure, it has a pretty muddy history as a whaling port and there are still whale meat restaurants there now. However, if you’re a dog then Jangsaengpo must be one of the safest places in Korea to be.  The look on this little guy’s face said it all…this place is a dog sanctuary.

Getting There: Take bus #246 from near the Ulsan intercity bus terminal to Jangsaengpo harbor.

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