BELUGA: A Farewell to Whales by Pierre "B‚land

BELUGA: A Farewell to Whales

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In the St. Lawrence River, the beluga whales are dying wholesale, and B‚land (St. Lawrence National Institute of Ecotoxicology) points a finger at the culprits in this absorbing if sorrowful story. Innocently white, with a great blob (known in cetacean circles as a ""melon"") on their foreheads, belugas are adorable creatures, cute enough to have inspired Raffi to pen a much-loved children's tune in their honor. While they are basically residents of the Arctic, the waters of the St. Lawrence estuary have sported an outlander population since glacial times. By 1979, when a protective law went into effect, the number in the St. Lawrence had dwindled to 500, from a high point of several thousand. Sixteen years later, their numbers still hover at the 500 mark. Overhunting was a major problem; they were killed for their oil and hides--which were turned into such important items as shoelaces--and because they were thought, wrongly, to be depleting the fish catch. Now, after dissecting a number of carcasses, B‚land finds many whales riddled with cancer, poisoned by lead and mercury, and sickened by organohalogens (DDT, PCBs, and the like). If that weren't bad enough, military powers exploit the whales in an attempt to mimic their echolocation talents (US nuclear subs now have melons of their own). B‚land spends many hours observing the belugas: plotting their movements (including a fascinating Black Sea adventure), rapt in their songs, witnessing the first moments of a young beluga's life. The image of a breaching beluga ""became imprinted on my visual cortex, as if a chemical were seeping into my neural tissue and making a connection with some fundamental archetypal structure."" Love, cetologist style. Yet, he writes, ""I can no longer bear to brood over belugas . . . I have reached the conclusion that they are doomed in the world we humans are building."" Even Raffi couldn't lighten this tale of woe.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1996
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Lyons & Burford