THE GREAT WHALES by Faith McNulty

THE GREAT WHALES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Considering some fifty million whales have been butchered in the last fifty years, often by explosives attached to a harpoon, it seems that the high seas are filled with madmen on Pequods. McNulty presents whales in remarkably captivating behavior: they lift a wounded comrade out of the water; they stroke -- even fondle -- other whales in frolic or courtship; they breach or dive in play; they emit complex, mellifluous songs. When McNulty tells of a captured calf whose handler thought of her as a ""lonely, confused being imprisoned in her great sensitive bulk of flesh and isolated by lack of communication,"" one is ready to cry, ""Anthropomorphizing!"" But reading that the calf's ""whole body swelled and heaved in response to Donahoo's [the handler] caresses,"" how she could distinguish him from other people (no matter what he wore), how she learned commands of ""attention,"" ""open,"" and ""no,"" how she cavorted with swimmers in the tank, how she spontaneously imitated the rhythms of taps on her head -- one is tempted to cry, ""Murder!"" at the gratuitous killings of such intelligent, affectionate beings. McNulty informs us of taxonomy and anatomy, but she does it so effortlessly that we scarcely realize that such formidable material is being discussed. Not a polemic, but a compelling illustration of how close humans and other mammals really are.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1974
Publisher: Doubleday