I just finished Peter Heller’s The Whale Warriors about “the battle at the bottom of the world to save the planet’s largest mammals” and I’ve got to tell you the whales don’t stand a chance.
Between the mega-sized factory ships that process whales with the same cold efficiency that’s leveled our rain forests so quickly and the hippy vegans that go to sea to save them ill trained and poorly equipped, the odds of preserving these wonderful and important animals look dim.
And once the whales go, other things essential to our survival go too.
Though the environmental angle is tremendous, what we must appreciate also their human-like characteristics. Their ability to feel love and deep rooted emotional attachment. To be stricken with grief when one of their peers is killed. To feel pain and loss. All of these emotions made possible because inside the big brains of whales is a teeny tiny cell, called a “spindle” cell—originally thought to live only in humans and great apes.
But fear not. I won’t go warm and fuzzy on you. I “get” Darwinism and the realities of survival.
I promise, I’d eat Pineapple Hill’s little pound pup Jack if I was hungry enough.
I’m not here to preach. Neither was Heller.
What I especially liked about Whale Warriors was his ability to tell the story of a 180-foot converted North Sea trawler pitching to and from and side to side on five story waves off the stormy shores of Antarctica while also describing the politics of whale hunting and whale saving at international levels, between Greenpeace and its rival The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and between crew members of the Sea Shepherd’s warship the Farley Mowat.
I appreciated his openness. His suspicions. His cynicism. His worries. His empathy.
Here’s an excerpt:
Here was a heavily dressed hand loading the harpoon gun with the explosive-tipped harpoon. Here was the ship moving fast in the swell. There were the blows of a pod of minke whales ahead, fleeing for all they were worth, blowing every few seconds, clearly panicked. Fire. The flight of the harpoon, the arrow-straight line of cable following. Miss. Fleeing whales. Now the camera focused on a whale in the rear of the pack. Good size. The harpooner focused on her too. Fire. Miss again. And another. Fourth shot hits her in the flank. Explosion and fountain of blood. Whale thrashing. Cable winch engaged, thrashing screaming whale reeled in, gushing blood, turning the sea red. Hauled to the side. Still convulsing, hemorrhaging everywhere, another spear, probe, on long pole with cable attached thrust into her side. Whale writhing. Big generator on deck blaring. Electrocution current now coursing through the new spear. Whale in bloody agony, Not even close to dead. Finally hauled, tail up, suspended so they can hold her breathing hole under. She drowns after fifteen more minutes in a sea of her own blood. I wanted to vomit.
Heller’s book was written almost ten years ago. There’s been a lot medication-laced pee flushed into the sea since then. More oil spills and chemical leaks. More diapers, fertilizer and Round Up.
A lot less clean fresh water pours out from the world’s rivers.
A lot more over harvesting of shrimp goes on—Chilean Bass (aka Patagonian Toothfish), oysters, and other yummy ocean dwellers too—because there’s a lot more mouths to feed on what’s brought home from the sea.
Life supporting coral reefs are dying before our very eyes.
Where the currents of the wide open seas swirl and circle, there’s garbage accumulating: coolers, plastic chairs, sports beverage bottles and other junk, along with dead birds, fish and animals caught up in them.
I am not a crusader. I read Heller’s book in the jacuzzi under the branches of banana trees and almost always sporting some sort of sweating cocktail.
But I do think more of us need to at least be more informed on what’s happening out there with “Mother Ocean”.
It’s no longer enough to sit around listening to Jimmy Buffet songs while wearing a Hawaiian shirt, faded red lifeguard trunks and sandy flip-flops.
There’s a bigger place for all of us in this. A more substantive role.
The first step is simply wanting to go look for it.
Which perhaps you’ll decide to do after reading Heller’s book at the beach or under sail.