11th 2008
Book Review: The Whale Warriors

Posted under books/reading

Have just finished reading The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals by Peter Heller. And for anyone who is interested in what really goes on in Antarctica with Japan’s whaling, this is a must read.

Heller goes out with the Sea Shepherd, led by Captain Paul Watson and with a largely volunteer international crew, to pursue the Japanese whaling fleet and interfere with their mission of “scientific” whaling. (The only people who actually seem to think it is scientific are the Japanese involved with the mission. But I digress… a little). The book maintains a fast pace and flows very well. The descriptions, especially, of the conditions at sea with 30 plus foot swells are vivid. You’ll just about feel the cold spray as it crashed over the bow of the ship, the Farley Mowat.

Paul Watson was one of the founders of Greenpeace, but broke away to form Sea Shepherd in the late 1970s. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is an organization surrounded by controversy but possessing more chutzpah than anyone else in conservation on the high seas. Heller has his eyes wide open with an outsider’s perspective, seeking to determine both the reality and philosophy of the Sea Shepherd’s approach, and wonders more than once what he has gotten himself into by undertaking the voyage. He draws all aspects of the situation: the accusations of piracy against Sea Shepherd due to its willingness to use its ships to physically interfere with whaling ships (and, historically, other fishing vessels), the determination of the entire Farley Mowat crew from seasoned veterans to first timers, the viciousness that is comprised of the hunt for whales, and the lack of temerity of governments to directly confront the Japanese whaling fleet to end the slaughter. In the season when Heller was aboard, they engaged the Japanese whalers twice, and the drama of each encounter is captured vividly.

I had known of Sea Shepherd before reading this book, on the fence as to how I felt about their very direct form of action. Reading this book brings you right into the midst of the Sea Shepherd mindset, and I come away with enormous respect for the dedication and amount of risk involved. I am not sure I could do it, and yet it is so incredibly critical that someone does, since Japan continues to kill whales undeterred by increasing worldwide criticism. Heller does not go into enormous detail about what the whalers do, but the descriptions he does include of just what it takes to kill a whale should make anyone even remotely interested in whale conservation sit up and take notice. Suffice it to say here that there is nothing humane in how it takes 15-30 minutes or more of violent attack against a whale before it dies brutally and painfully. If any other animal taken for its meat was killed this barbarically, there would be mountains of uproar. Because these whale killings happen so far away from the public eye (though Iceland and Norway also undertake whaling), the chilling details of the kill are largely unknown. The Sea Shepherd may employ unorthodox methods in its direct means of intervention, but without them, many more whales would be lost. And since global whale populations after massive commercial whaling have left large whale populations at 5% or less of their original numbers (depending on the species), any whale lost is a blow to their overall survival.

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