Whale Warriors

I just finished Peter Heller’s book The Whale Warriors about “the battle at the bottom of the world to save the planet’s largest mammals” …and I’ve got to tell you the whales don’t stand a chance. Between the mega-sized factory ships that process whales with the same cold efficiency that’s that leveled our rain forests so quickly, to the hippy vegans that go to sea to safe them ill trained and poorly equipped, the odds of preserving these wonderful and important animals look dim.

And once the whales go the other essentials to our survival go too.

It’s not just that that makes whales special. It’s their human like characteristics. The ability to feel love and deep rooted emotional attachment. To be stricken with grief when one of their peers is killed. To feel pain and loss. All of these motions made possible because inside the big brains of whales is a teeny tiny cell, called a “spindle” cell –originally thought to live only in humans and great apes. It the cell enabling love and emotions.

But fear not. I’m not going warm and fuzzy on you. I “get” Darwinism and the realities of survival.

I promise, I’d eat Pineapple Hill’s little pound pup Jack if I was hungry enough.

Jack doesn't like it when my stomach growls.
Jack doesn’t like it when my stomach growls.

I’m not here to preach. Neither was Heller.

What I especially liked about his book was his ability to tell the story of the voyage and The Situation –straddling the line between them as if on a teeter-totter. (As if trying to keep his balance on a 180-foot converted North Sea trawler pitching to and from and side to side on five story waves off the stormy shores of Antarctica –which was frequently the reality of his circumstances while embedded as a journalist out at sea).

His notes describe the politics of whale hunting

Chilean Sea Bass (aka Patagonian Toothfish). Yummy ...but nearly extinct.
Chilean Sea Bass (aka Patagonian Toothfish). Yummy …but nearly extinct.

and whale saving –at international levels, between Greenpeace and its rival The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and between crew members of the Sea Shepherd’s warship the Farley Mowat. I like his sincerity. His suspicions. His cynicism. His worries. His empathy.

Here’s an excerpt:

Here was a heavily dressed hand loading the harpoon gun with the explosive-tipped harpoon. Here was the ship moving fast in the swell. There were the blows of a pod of minke whales ahead, fleeing for all they were worth, blowing every few seconds, clearly panicked. Fire. The flight of the harpoon, the arrow-straight line of cable following. Miss. Fleeing whales. Now the camera focused on a whale in the rear of the pack. Good size. The harpooner focused on her too. Fire. Miss again. And another. Fourth shot hits her in the flank. Explosion and fountain of blood. Whale thrashing. Cable winch engaged, thrashing screaming whale reeled in, gushing blood, turning the sea red. Hauled to the side. Still convulsing, hemorrhaging everywhere, another spear, probe, on long pole with cable attached thrust into her side. Whale writhing. Big generator on deck blaring. Electrocution current now coursing through the new spear. Whale in bloody agony, Not even close to dead. Finally hauled, tail up, suspended so they can hold her breathing hole under. She drowns after fifteen more minutes in a sea of her own blood. I wanted to vomit.

Heller’s book was written almost ten years ago. There’s been a lot more oil and chemicals and pharmacuetical laced pee dumped into the water since then. A lot less fresh water pouring out from the world’s rivers. A lot more over harvesting of shrimp. Chilean Bass (aka Patagonian Toothfish), oysters, and other yummy ocean dwellers. There’s been a lot of life supporting coral reefs destroyed. A lot more mouths to feed (human, bovine, canine and others depend on what is brought up from the depths of the Earth). Where the currents of the wide open seas swirl and circle, there’s garbage accumulating: coolers, plastic chairs, sports beverage bottles and other junk –along with dead birds, fish and animals caught up in them.

I am not a crusader. I read Heller’s book in the hot tub next to a bunch of banana trees. Usually with some sort of sweating cocktail going.

But I do think more of us need to at least be more informed on what’s happening out there with “Mother Ocean”.

It’s not enough just listening to Jimmy Buffet songs wearing a Hawaiian shirt, faded red lifeguard trunks and sand encrusted flip-flops.

There’s a bigger place for all of us in this. A more substantive role. The first step is simply wanting to go look for it… Be sure to add this to your list of books to take to the beach and boat, or books to take sailing list.

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— Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill