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War of the Whales: A True Story

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  949 Ratings  ·  185 Reviews
Two men face off against an all-powerful navy—and the fate of the ocean’s most majestic creatures hangs in the balance.

War of the Whales is the gripping tale of a crusading attorney who stumbles on one of the US Navy’s best-kept secrets: a submarine detection system that floods entire ocean basins with high-intensity sound—and drives whales onto beaches. As Joel Reynolds l
Hardcover, 426 pages
Published July 1st 2014 by Simon & Schuster
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Holly B
Jul 07, 2014 Holly B rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ocean
War of the Whales is a new favorite in my collection of books about the ocean, marine mammal science and environmental politics. The narrative reads as suspensefully as fiction although it is a true story about beaked whale strandings attributed to the use of navy sonar in military training exercises. Proving that you can kill a whale with sound and tackling the herculean task of doing something about it drives the book forward and Horwitz makes sure that all the elements of a good detective sto ...more
Jul 02, 2014 Neal rated it really liked it
From my Amazon Best Books of the Month review: Reported and written with great passion and precision, this is a gripping and wholly original tale of the ecological side effects of national security. When whales begin beaching themselves in the Bahamas, a marine researcher suspects a clandestine military sonar program. The fight to protect the gentle giants of the sea from the US Navy reads like an eco-thriller crossed with the best of investigative journalism. The action veers from Caribbean bea ...more
Jul 30, 2014 Clif rated it really liked it
This excellent book hit a nerve with me. So put on your seatbelts, here we go...

In law there is a term - "prima facie" - which means "based on the first impression". The prima facie situation of the sole superpower on Earth insisting that it must be allowed to kill animals in any number in order to keep in practice to defend the lives of Americans against foes that do not have the capability to mount an attack that would not be met with an overwhelming counterattack can be captured in one word:
Melissa  I
Feb 22, 2016 Melissa I rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: ABSOLUTELY EVERYONE!!! lol I did scream that. It's AMAZING and sad & so incredibly important...
Recommended to Melissa by: Goodreads
Update: Just received this today (August 8, 2014) and as I posted below I wouldn't have expected anything less than Stunning, GORGEOUS and sometimes fun, from Simon & Schuster books (no I'm not kissing *ss, I have just come to know through other S&S books I've read that the quality and amazing stories from this publisher and their authors is nothing short of superb. That top notch quality begins in the titles, to the blurbs, the covers, holding the book and its perfection in quality, the ...more
Pam Giarrizzo
Jul 24, 2014 Pam Giarrizzo rated it it was amazing
I ordered a copy of War of the Whales as soon as I read about it. I had been hearing for years about the problems the Navy's sonar program creates for whales, and I wanted to learn more about the issue. I was afraid the book would be dry and technical, though, and that I'd read the first chapter or two before putting it down, never to be picked up again.

I hadn't counted on the brilliant storytelling talents of Joshua Horwitz, the book's author, who makes the battle come alive between the U.S. Na
Sep 14, 2014 Barb rated it it was amazing
I gave this book 5 stars because it's something the public should be aware of and I am one who never knew anything about this. That being said however, it's a well written book and explains the problems with high pitched sounds and sonar that the Navy was using (and probably still is, who knows).

The whales started coming to shore and getting stranded there and the author talks about his research and how they came to try to save these whales and other sea life from what the Navy was doing.

If yo
Mani Gardner
May 21, 2014 Mani Gardner rated it it was amazing
I borrowed the advanced reader copy from my friend. I was a bit hesitant since this is a non-fiction book, but after I read the first chapter I was hooked. The book reads like a mystery novel - at times, I was shocked (in both good and not-so-good ways) to think that some of these events really happened! I am not the most avid environmentalist or animal lover, but this book got me to feel for all the characters, human and animal alike. AND learning about the Navy's use of sonar and secret defens ...more
Jun 03, 2014 Helen rated it it was amazing
Wow! War of the Whales is a well-researched, page turner of a book about the terrible impact that navy sonar can have on whales. It starts with the mass stranding of whales in the Bahamas in 2000 and follows the investigations into the causes of these and other strandings (which are eventually clearly tied to U.S. Navy sonar war games/testing in the areas). I would give this book my highest rating for anyone interested in the environment, oceans, acoustics, marine life and especially whales. Bea ...more
Schuyler Wallace
Jul 05, 2014 Schuyler Wallace rated it it was amazing

As a Navy man, sailor, lover of all things oceanic, and a person who once thought about a career in marine biology, I found Joshua Horwitz’s “War of the Whales” to be both fascinating and food for thought. I abhor the image of Navy brass as perpetrators of animal cruelty although I’m convinced, after reading the book, that such behavior in the name of national security is entirely in character and unlikely to change.

Marine biologist Ken Balcomb is a fascinating study of a
This book details the affects of military sonar and LFA testing and the affects on mammal sea life.
The story starts with whales washing up on the shores of Bahamas in 2000. From there it follows the investigation and legal proceedings. Spliced into the narrative is information on military programs, ocean fish & mammal advocacy and protection, whale biology, and background stories of the participants.

Whales use bioacoustics to identify objects, navigate, and communicate. When there's a really
Krystal Dion
Sep 05, 2014 Krystal Dion rated it it was amazing
I loved reading this book. I am very interested in becoming a marine biologist/ecologist when I grow up. This book is very written with many details. It felt like I was one of the "Earthlings" helping and researching the whales. I liked how the author explained the science behind the things he did. I also liked learning about the beaked whales and all the pictures that were included in the text. I was very interested in learning about mass stranding of whales and it was wonderful to read about p ...more
Kati Polodna
Received ARC from NETGALLEY for honest review. Excellent nonfiction work about how military sonar tests drove whales to beach themselves. Well-written and fast-paced, it was informative without being mind-numbing. The courtroom bit was a little more tedious but easy to understand. Definitely worth a read if you're looking for something that isn't just fluff this summer.
Jan 27, 2015 Sylvia rated it really liked it
I love it when a book inspires me with depictions of people who are willing to fight for what they believe in. It is even better when the book is about real people. I enjoyed reading about Ken Balcomb and Joel Reynolds and their longtime efforts to protect whales and many other species. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the environment, and particularly environmental law.
Jun 29, 2014 Neil rated it really liked it
Fascinating history of the ongoing battle between environmental stewardship and military preparedness. The story leads to the NRDC v. Winter Supreme Court decision. If you're unfamiliar with that case, no spoilers here.
Jul 01, 2014 Chris rated it it was amazing
Josh has done an amazing job of detailing the events surrounding the mass strandings of whales that have been occurring for the last 40 years. Are the strandings explicable? To some, no. You will reach your own conclusions after you read this compelling, extremely well written book.
Quite good. Going up against the Navy is a lot like pushing a large, heavy, flat rock up a very steep hill; but there are persistent and tireless activists working to maintain the health of the oceans and sea life. I am constantly amazed at what mankind can do with careless and callous disregard for the environment or other species.(view spoiler) ...more
Aug 08, 2014 Megan rated it liked it
So precisely how detrimental is the loss of several dozen beaked whales every few years to the species population? Precisely how detrimental might the loss of the navy's use of LFA sonar be to the security of OUR population? How can the two be compared? All I could gather from this book, is that it depends on who you ask.

Although well written and painstakingly researched, the book still feels one-sided to me. This may be in part due to restrictions on public information concerning Navy practice
Aug 18, 2014 Ray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In "The War of the Whales", Joshua Horwitz tells the story of the ongoing battle between a small handful of marine biologists / environmentalists and the U.S. Navy over the harmful use of SONAR on marine mammals.
Marine biologist Ken Balcomb and NRDC attorney Joel Reynolds take on the Navy over its use of sonar for training exercises after seeing the effects of the testing on beaked whales and other species of marine mammals. The SONAR tests produce high decibel underwater acoustic sounds which
Jul 04, 2014 Alexa rated it it was amazing
Loved it. This nonfiction reads like a novel. The story begins with the mass-stranding of whales in the Bahamas in 2000 and follows the winding path all the way to the Supreme Court where the National Resources Defense Council faces off with the US Navy in a battle between the welfare of the whales and military might. Will we allow sonar to cripple and kill significant populations of marine mammals in the name of national security? Although the book deals with technical and scientific matters du ...more
Sep 24, 2014 Stuart rated it it was amazing
In 2003 my cousin Ken Balcomb video taped and sound recorded the Navy performing 235-decibel, mid-frequency sonar testing, right off the shore from his house on San Juan Island in Puget Sound. In this clip below, you will hear the shrieking of the sonar, while you see the battleship, and a pod of orcas are huddled close to shore. They are very agitated.

The Navy initially denied that they were even in the area, but when Ken sent the footage to KOMO 4 TV, they amended thei
Joseph Street
Sep 17, 2014 Joseph Street rated it liked it
An engrossing account of the decades-long (and on-going) struggle on the part of environmental activists and a small handful of marine scientists to document the effects of underwater noise -- i.e. high intensity low- and mid-frequency sonar used in military operations -- on marine mammals, and to compel the U.S. Navy to live up to its responsibilities under federal environmental law. As portrayed here, the recalcitrance of the Navy brass in the face of overwhelming evidence was somewhat shockin ...more
Rosie Umstattd
Jun 02, 2015 Rosie Umstattd rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Rosie by: Rosieu
Well, this is a pretty incredible book in my opinion. It is a true account of how a group of whales stranded themselves in the Bahamas in 2000 with most dying and how the prior 30-40 years of 'scientific research' in the Navy and the private sector lead up to the event. If you consider yourself to be an environmentalist, pro-whale, ocean loving person who has never really known how it all got to the point we are at now (like me), you should read this. After reading this book I have a whole new u ...more
Justin Barney
Nov 20, 2014 Justin Barney rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books about environmental advocacy. It makes you wish you studied animals for a living, or that you fought on behalf of endangered species in courts of law. Horwitz is a gifted storyteller. He weaves together a complex storyline so that it reads quite naturally. The plot itself is pretty incredible, and chronicles an extended legal battle to curb the use of sonar (which causes mass strandings) by the U.S. NAVY. Sad at times, but ultimately leaves you with a feeling of ...more
Ben Everhart
Jun 27, 2015 Ben Everhart rated it it was amazing
When it begins, this book is part science mystery and part legal thriller mixed with a pinch of real world adventure. By the end, it becomes something even more compelling: a human interest story that draws you in and resonates. I found it very moving in some key places, notably when the book chronicles the emotional, psychological and relationship consequences the two protagonists endure to keep up their fight. The environmental concerns are central to this book, as are the whales, but it isn't ...more
Jan Underhill
Nov 13, 2014 Jan Underhill rated it really liked it
Wish I had time for more detailed reviews: I'm usually off to the next book...but this is a carefully written, vivid account of a truly large-scale assault that gets minimal coverage by news sources. The tension between those who see the global fate of an entire species, already nearly wiped out by commercial interests (read the recently deceased Farley Mowat to grasp the appalling scale of carnage wrought by whaling), now threatened by the enormous power of military interests, is grippingly re ...more
Jul 17, 2014 Kimberly rated it it was ok
I couldn't finish this one because life is too short and there are too many excellent, readable books out there waiting. I tried to get through it, but found myself unable to pay attention through the tedious back stories and unusually high number of character changes.
Nov 27, 2015 Amanda rated it it was amazing
I learned so much from this book. It's really well written and such a compelling story. The author's vivid description of a whale to experiencing high frequency sonar will break your heart.
Leeann Sprinkles
May 29, 2014 Leeann Sprinkles rated it it was amazing
A great read about whales vs Navy. An amazing book
Xenia Germeni
Oct 24, 2014 Xenia Germeni rated it liked it
very good book for nature and activists !
Dec 24, 2014 Shawn rated it it was amazing
well researched and written, I highly recommend it!
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Lit Lawvers: War of the Whales (December 2014) 10 20 Dec 22, 2014 04:48AM  
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  • Soul of a Lion: One Woman's Quest to Rescue Africa's Wildlife Refugees
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  • Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins
  • Swimming with Orca: My Life with New Zealand's Killer Whales
  • The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet's Largest Mammals
  • The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna
  • Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World
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  • The Dolphin in the Mirror: Exploring Dolphin Minds and Saving Dolphin Lives
  • Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity

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“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?” —Cormac McCarthy, Of Whales and Men” 1 likes
“respectively. Diane Claridge Dolphin and beaked whale researcher; wife and research partner of Ken Balcomb. Darlene Ketten Whale and human hearing expert; forensic pathologist, Harvard Medical School and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Roger Payne First cetologist to decode and promote humpback whale song and conservation. Chris Clark Director, Bioacoustics Research Program, Cornell University Lab of Ornithology; protégé of Roger Payne.” 0 likes
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