Save the Whales!

Mind in the Waters

assembled by Joan McIntyre
Scribners/Sierra Club, 240 pp., $14.95

The Whale: Mighty Monarch of the Sea

by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Philippe Diolé, translated by J.F. Bernard
Doubleday, 304 pp., $9.95


by Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Philippe Diolé, translated by J.F. Bernard
Doubleday, 304 pp., $12.95

The Whale Problem: A Status Report

edited by William E. Schevill
Harvard University Press, 419 pp., $12.50

The Blue Whale

by George L. Small
Columbia University Press, 248 pp., $3.95 (paper)

The sea is in a sense our last frontier, and the whales the rulers of it, whom we are in danger of displacing, just as we have displaced the Indians and the buffaloes that they hunted. The hunting and gathering stage of man’s evolution ended on land some 10,000 years ago, but it continues still today in the sea. So far we have only managed to exploit its resources, not to cultivate them. The neolithic revolution is only just beginning to reach the sea. Yet the oceans occupy a far larger proportion of the earth’s surface than the land and they nourish a life of quite staggering richness and variety.

In these days of worry about over-population and overcrowding it is encouraging to remember that we have only just begun even to explore these vast areas and volumes of water. But above all let us not exploit them carelessly and so ruin them. Our treatment of whales in the past has certainly not been encouraging, but it is not realized widely enough that there are some distinct signs of better times for them. Knowledge has increased enormously and the methods of management and control that have been devised are being adopted, at least in part, by the Russians and Japanese, who control 85 percent of the world’s catching. This has been an international effort, devised largely by scientists and backed by governments and by popular opinion. It has not been easy to achieve, but is a hopeful sign that human affairs can be conducted rationally.

But whales are not just a “resource” to be exploited. They are wonderful creatures, in some ways perhaps closer to ourselves than any other animals. It must be a dull person who will not admit that whales are fascinating. Many books about them are fascinating too—but they can also be tiresome. Whales rouse some of our worst as well as our best poetic instincts. Mind In the Waters is a mixed collection of some thirty pieces “assembled” by Joan McIntyre. It makes compulsive reading, but it is a bit hard to be compelled by a poem that is printed in the margin of a scientific article and with a photograph on the same page. Perhaps some people like this sort of typography—it makes for easy snippetting at the coffee table. But some of the marginal snippets are so small that you have to take a hand lens to read them. It is annoying when you have deciphered a diagram of a food web that is printed too small, to find that it is full of mistakes.

But enough of carping. This is mostly a fine and a moving book, and will repay either serious study or browsing by the layman. It begins with an erotic D.H. Lawrence poem and then has a wonderfully moving account of how a seventy-foot whale got trapped in a pond and was shot as it swam around for many days, while its mate called to it in vain…

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