The tear chasers – Memories of post-war whalers

Anne-Goaitske Breteler went hunting for whalers in Northeast Friesland. At the time of her search, the years before 2018, there were still men living there who could tell about the Dutch post-war whaling industry with the Willem Barendsz as a mothership. The stories about hunting fin whales and sperm whales are still on the minds of men. They are elderly and Breteler is just in time to write down their stories in a book about Dutch whaling after the Second World War: De tearjagers.

A book about the hunt for whale oil

  • Dutch whaling
  • Whaling with the Willem Barendsz
  • Memories of Post-War Whalers
  • Anne-Goaitske Breteler
  • About Breteler’s book
  • Presentation of The tear chasers
  • Protected animals


Dutch whaling

Dutch whaling is famous. Thousands of whales lost their lives due to the harpoons of Dutch hunters. It started in the 17th century and lasted until 1873, when the oceans were so empty that shipping was no longer profitable. It was about the tear, which became a raw material for various products, such as lamp oil, paint and soap. It was also used in the tannery. The Netherlands did not catch whales for their meat. It became a golden age for areas where many whalers came from. Terschelling, Ameland, Texel, Den Helder and Huisduinen supplied a striking number of whalers and commanders.

Commander Hidde Dirks Kat

Hidde Dirks Kat van Ameland is one of them. He wrote down what he experienced in a diary that has been published. The story can be compared to the wintering on Nova Zembla of Willem Barentsz and his men.

Whaling with the Willem Barendsz

After the Second World War, the Netherlands temporarily resumed whaling. There was a great need for the raw materials that hunting provided. Around the time of the Korean War (1953), it became a matter of honor that the Netherlands could meet its own needs for fats and whales were the suppliers of this. Willem Barendsz I and Willem Barendsz II ensured that the fats were delivered to the Netherlands. Dozens of young men from the Wadden Islands and Northeast Friesland signed on and of all those whalers, a few tough guys are still alive in 2018. They talk about their experiences and that produces fascinating stories.

Cor Gransbergen

Cor Gransbergen from Ameland is one of those men and he contributes to Anne-Goaitske Breteler’s book. The book that Gransbergen wrote – A Whale Like a Boterham’ was published in March 2018 and tells about his experiences – fits in seamlessly with the book De tearjagers that was published at the end of May 2018.

Memories of Post-War Whalers

The whalers Breteler spoke to were ordinary boys from Friesland, who were away from home for months after signing up. They traveled to Curaçao, South Africa, saw Table Mountain and the vastness of the oceans. They went to the Antarctic in the 1950s and 1960s to catch and process whales. At the time, they lived in villages in Northeast Friesland and embarked on the Willem Barendsz, the Dutch whale processing ship. They had to work hard, saw a lot and had adventures. Despite the hardships, the men look back on good times.

Source: AUP Publishers

Anne-Goaitske Breteler

Anne-Goaitske Breteler, who was 22 years old when the book was published, was born and raised in Northeast Friesland. Before she started studying Cultural Anthropology and Public History in Amsterdam, she had a part-time job in a café. It was the whaler’s café De Bûnte Bok Lioessens. Previously it was The Albatros of whaler Jaap van der Wagen. Former whalers came to the regular table to reminisce about their memories and objects that referred to that time hung on the walls: cutting knives, sperm whale teeth, a stuffed albatross. As a teenager, Breteler became intrigued by those objects and stories, the men and their nicknames. It became the beginning of an investigation into what united the men, post-war whaling. She visited the whalers at home and recorded their stories.


Breteler and whales have been together forever since the kitchen table conversations and the publication of the book. She wears a necklace with a whale around her neck and is going to get a tattoo. From a whale.

About Breteler’s book

Breteler first listens to the stories of her beppe, grandmother, about the post-war period. She speaks with Durk van der Veen, visits Wiep de Jong, sits at the table with Hillebrand Feenstra, visits Nutte Dijkstra and hears the experiences of Bauke Hofman, Cor Gransbergen and Gerlof Groen.

Stories and background information

The book has been compiled from all those stories, supplemented with information about the post-war period in the Netherlands, whales and whaling and the practice on the Willem Barendsz. They have become stories with personal notes from the writer, which are told as if she were there herself and which transport the reader to the men’s kitchen table and into the adventurous period they tell about. Breteler expresses the memories powerfully and in a pleasantly readable way.

Men with beards

In the book, the interviewees can be seen in photographs, as young men on the deck of the Willem Barendsz, up to their knees in whale blubber, out and about in Cape Town or lying in their cage. Some grew their beards, whether or not because of a bet. It produces beautiful photos of men with beards in the prime of their lives. The writer was allowed to browse through personal photo albums and choose suitable photos from them. She has chosen well: men at work, men resting or hustling on the ship, men in their free time and men coming home or being at home. Breteler chose many photos from that time. A photo has been added to some of the main characters from the time when the writer sat at the table with the narrators. It is a game for the reader to recognize the eighties in the snapshots of the twenty-somethings.

Longing for adventure

Anne-Goaitske Breteler does not glorify whaling in any way. She has collected the stories and done the whalers, their children and grandchildren and anyone who is in any way interested in that history a favor by turning them into a book. Everyone can now take note of it. By reading the stories you can feel the men’s nostalgia for adventure, camaraderie and the time when they could conquer the world and understand the practice of whaling. Anne-Goaitske Breteler has written it fantastically, never becomes sentimental or activist, but takes the reader into the world of post-war whalers. ‘The tear chasers’ is an asset to the bookcase.

Presentation of The tear chasers

‘De tearjagers’ was presented on June 14, 2018 in Amsterdam in the Frisian café-restaurant Thuskomme. A handful of the whalers interviewed for the book traveled to the capital on a bus specially arranged for the occasion to attend.

Professor Jaap Bruijn, co-writer of the book ‘The Last Tear’, spoke there, as did Midas Dekkers. Father Gerrit Breteler and brother Hylke Bret Eler provided the musical accompaniment and sang an eighteenth-century whaler’s song. Tattoo king Henk Schiffmacher interviewed three of the whalers on the spot: Durk van der Veen and Nutte Dijkstra from Oosternijkerk and Wieb de Jong from Anjum. Brand Feenstra from Ternaard did not live to see the party, he died in February 2018.

Source: AUP Publishers

The tear chasers
Memories of post-war whalers

  • ISBN: 9789462983816
  • Author: Anne-Goaitske Breteler
  • Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
  • May 2018
  • Price: 14.99


Protected animals

Whales are beautiful animals and seventy years after the war, most Dutch people are convinced that whaling worldwide must stop. The Netherlands may have stopped hunting long ago (in 1964), but there are still countries that hunt marine mammals in the 21st century (Norway, Iceland, Japan). Breteler’s book is not a condoning of whaling, but is full of memories of a fascinating time.


Remnants of the 17th and 18th century whaling can be seen on the Wadden Islands in the form of kakebienen, pieces of whale jaws that were used as fencing. Some animal activists believe that those centuries-old pieces of jaw should be removed because they are reminders of a cruel whaling hunt. The islanders cherish the remains of the whale jaw as part of the island’s history, just like the commander’s houses and attributes that have been preserved from that time and can be seen in the museums. In 2018, Ameland celebrates the Island of Hidde Dirks Kat, not to glorify whaling, but to honor the man who wrote such a beautiful diary about his experiences as a whaler and his wintering with the Eskimos on Greenland. It is no time to repeat it, it is no longer appropriate to go whaling, but whaling, and certainly the post-war one, is a fascinating subject.

Tear chasers

A . The Bûnte Bok in Lioessens
B . Cape Town
C . Southern Arctic Ocean


read more

  • Scrimshaw – house craft on a sperm whale tooth
  • A Whale for a Sandwich, Memories of a Whaler
  • Whales big and fat – Hans Beelen and Ingrid Biesheuvel
  • Whaler and commander Marten Jansen from Ameland
  • Sperm whale – the deep-sea diver with shoreface and ambergris

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