War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz

“What if the catalyst or the key to understanding creation lay somewhere in the immense mind of the whale? Suppose if God came back from wherever it is he’s been and asked us smilingly if we’d figured it out yet. Suppose he wanted to know if it had finally occurred to us to ask the whale. And then he sort of looked around and he said, ‘By the way, where are the whales?'”

As Cormac McCarthy points out, the whales have a great deal to teach Homo sapiens. The Bible describes poetically how “the great creatures of the sea” were created before humankind (Genesis 1:20-23), and science makes the same claim: while Homo sapiens has been around for perhaps 200,000 years, the whales have roamed the oceans for tens of millions of years. The wisdom bestowed upon the whales by time is thus immense and studies of whales and other creatures have helped improve the life of human beings. When we annihilate a species, we destroy future discoveries – keys to longer life spans, cures for diseases, spectacular engineering feats – and the destruction of a species is the destruction of a resource that cannot be quantified.

So, “‘where are the whales?'” Some of them are already gone forever, others are on the brink of extinction, and many are threatened. The ruthless whale hunting took an extreme toll on their numbers, but whaling is no longer the major threat to whales. Instead, other dangers have emerged. How the documented warming of the oceans will affect whale populations is yet unknown. What is beyond a doubt is that marine traffic is a serious and constant danger, as is the pollution of the oceans – not the least noise pollution.

For marine life drowns in man-made noise, and studies indicate that sonar used by navies to track submarines can result in mass strandings of whales. Sonar also drives whales away from areas that are important to their survival, and it has been documented that these mammals abandon feeding for extended periods when sonar is in use.

War of the Whales, a deeply moving true story by Joshua Horwitz, describes the whales’ historic and current circumstances and how environmental law attorney Joel Reynolds takes the U.S. Navy to court to expose the Navy sonar program and reduce ocean noise pollution. While Reynolds is involved in this enormous challenge, marine biologist Ken Balcomb witnesses an atypical mass stranding of whales. Balcomb investigates the disaster and his hard evidence leads him to join Reynolds: the stage is set for a clash between an intrusive man-made world and the need to protect life in the ocean.

As the case travels through the U.S. legal system, Reynolds knows that a conservation battle never truly can be won: “the environment is never saved. It always needs saving. So do the whales.”

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One Response to “War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz”

  1. Best New Books of 2014: Emil S’s Picks | Wake County Libraries "Book a Day" Staff Pick Says:

    […] War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz Whales and other marine mammals are under severe threat from a number of human activities, not the least mankind’s insistence on waging war and preparing for war. The navy use of sonar creates noise storms that again and again cause atypical mass strandings and deaths of whales. The U.S. government regulators have become captives “to the interests they’re supposed to police,” and it is up to individuals and private organizations to help protect life in the oceans. War of the Whales is the true story of how environmental law attorney Joel Reynolds (of NRDC), marine biologist Ken Balcomb, and many others did everything in their power in order to reduce deadly, man made noise pollution and save some of the magnificent creatures that humankind share this planet with.  See my full review. […]

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