Month: August 2015

by Farley Mowat

In the late sixties, very little was known about whales and their demise from the whaling industry and overfishing seemed imminent. So when a fin whale (second-largest next to the blue whale) became trapped by the tide in a small cove on the coast of Newfoundland, Mowat saw it as an opportunity to learn more about the whale at close quarters. He was shocked and angered to find locals using the whale for sport, shooting at it and chasing it with their speedboats. He appealed to local authorities for help and getting little response, went to the media and Canadian government. The small community he lived in split sides as some saw his work advocating for the whale as meddlesome, objected to being denied water passage through areas they\’d always used, and resented criticism from the outside world. Others welcomed the attention the whale brought their small village, hoping it would bring them tourists and that improvements like better roads would follow. Efforts to free the whale had to wait for the next highest tide (which would need to coincide with a storm to raise the water enough for the whale to escape via a narrow passage) – it would have been a month at best, but the story of the whale covers only ten days. Mowat struggled to find means to feed the whale, and protect it from people (whether they were just curious, bored or outright cruel mattered little in the end- they did the whale no good).

It gets set up slowly, introducing the reader to the history of whaling in Newfoundland (and around the world) as well as the location. Mowat had only been in this remote fishing community for five years, seeking a quiet place to live far from \”modern society\” (he rants a lot against industrialization and modern technology, seems to hate the telephone in particular). Unfortunately his actions in favor of the whale brought all kinds of conflict and ill-feeling, I guess he did not continue living there for long after the incident. In parts the book is almost more a study of human nature (how people responded to the whale\’s presence and each other\’s involvement in its plight) than it is about the whale itself. There are some detailed descriptions of its sheer size, calm movements, eerie sounds. Also details on its natural feeding methods (which could hardly be met) and how another fin whale (probably its mate) stayed just outside the inlet to the cove constantly until the whale died. It\’s a frustrating story to read, because so little could be done, and by the time scientists became interested in the whale it was too late for them to arrive and learn anything. But the book did have an impact on early whale conservation efforts.

Rating: 3/5      239 pages, 1972

I had a chance to visit the public library without my kids, so browsed the shelves at leisure. Brought home a few books to read, but couldn\’t possible carry (or find time for) all the ones that caught my eye, so I wrote down a list of titles to go back for later. Some of these are also from references listed in recent reads:

Beneath the Surface by John Hargrove
Amazing Rare Things by David Attenborough
Smithsonian Natural History Kathryn Hennessy
The Amateur Naturalist by Nick Baker
Secret Lives of Common Birds by Marie Read
Captivating Bluebirds by Stan Tekiala
Life Along the Delaware Bay by Niles, Berger, Dey et al
The Bonobo and the Atheist by F.B.M. de Waal
Giraffe Reflections by Dale Peterson
Wolf: Legend, Enemy, Icon by Rebecca L. Grambo
Whitetail Tracks by Valerius Geist
The Odyssey of KP2 by Terrie M. Williams
The Last Unicorn by William DeBuys
Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem
The Way of the Panda by Henry Nicholls
The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell
The Great White Bear by Kieran Mulvaney
Among Giants by Charles Nicklin and K.M. Kostyal
The Intimate Ape by Shawn Thompson
Tibet Wild by George B. Schaller
Into Great Silence by Eva Saulitis
Last Chain on Billie by Carol Bradley
The Black Rhinos of Namibia by Rick Bass
An Indomitable Beast by Alan Rabinowitz
A Sting in the Tale by David Goulson
Ten Million Aliens by Simon Barnes

Wild Animals in Captivity by Heini Hediger
Zoo: a History of Zoological Gardens by Eric Baratay
A Different Nature: the Pradoxical World of Zoos by David Hancocks
Sea Otters by Marianne Riedman
Sea Otters by John A. Love
Sea Otters a Natural History and Guide by Roy Nickerson
The World of the Sea Otter by Stephanie Paine

Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity
by David Kirby

This book is about the controversy over keeping orcas in captivity. If you\’ve seen the film Blackfish, it\’s the same topic, although much broader in scope. It\’s not all about SeaWorld, it does discuss other marine parks and some studies of orcas in the wild.  Kirby goes into a ton of detail, particularly about the background of various people involved and what led them to work with orcas. By the second half of the book I realized its main focus was the 2010 incident when a male orca killed an experienced trainer during a show. There is a lot of detail about what happened afterwards, especially the legal tangle that ensued. Kirby attempts to fairly portray both sides- presenting what the captive marine industry has to say and their defenses, but its pretty apparent that the book leans in the anti- camp. It seems his main source was Naomi Rose, a wildlife scientist who works for the Humane Society- there\’s a lot about her. Practically a portrait of the life and work of Naomi Rose, in many ways. It became hard to read- because of the horrific scenes described when trainers were injured or killed by captive whales, the suffering of the animals (especially compared to the condition and behavior of their wild kin) and the tedious recitation of facts which, although informative, make for very dull reading. I would have rather read more about the whales themselves, this book is mostly focused on industry practices, events and people. However I learned a lot about what goes on and honestly I\’m appalled that marine parks still keep orcas for display and entertainment after what has happened. They seem very unsuitable for life in captivity. Read more here.

I borrowed this book from the public library, found it while browsing the shelves.

Rating: 3/5        469 pages, 2012

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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