Sydney Morning Herald reporter Darby ventures from Tasmania and Japan to Antarctica and Mexico as he tracks the ongoing destruction of the world’s whale population.
Despite the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, illegal hunting continues to take a toll. Darby profiles each endangered species in turn, digging though International Whaling Commission archives to root out the truth. The Right, a slow, steady baleen, was hunted to near-extinction in the Southern Ocean and the Atlantic by Basque and Long Islanders; protected since 1934, it was secretly chased by the Soviets but is now making a comeback. The Blue, a speedy Rorqual (the largest group of baleens), was routed by Norwegians and Americans from the Aleutians to the subartic seas of the North Atlantic. Out of nearly 40,000 Blues, more than 28,000 were killed at the height of the Antarctic whaling season in 1931, taken for the oil used in making soap and margarine. In need of protein for its starving people after the war, Japan resisted the 1931 Geneva Convention regulations to restrict whaling; General MacArthur’s complaisance “unlocked an industry that would shovel whale into the Japanese diet for a generation.” The tiny Minke was targeted especially by the Japanese, who still pursue it and the Humpback in the name of science. The big-headed warrior Sperm, with ambergris worth its weight in gold, was still being hunted into the ’70s, until Paul Watson of Greenpeace made whaling a “lightning rod for global species conservation.” Darby delineates both sides in the messy politics of whaling, and mixes in a lively bit of science and evolution. His study energetically underscores the need for continued vigilance in protecting these sublime ancient cetaceans.
An exciting, in-the-chase, up-to-the minute look at the state of global whaling—nice companion volume to Eric Jay Dolin’s Leviathan (2007).