Peacegal's Reviews > The Plight of the Whales

The Plight of the Whales by J.J. McCoy
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Feb 14, 11

bookshelves: humane-education
Read from February 13 to 14, 2011

Aimed at YA readers, The Plight of the Whales is a dated but at times historically interesting look at the conflict between whaling interests and conservationists.

We read of whaling from the days of Moby Dick up until powerful factory trawlers roamed the sea, slaughtering and processing whales with the efficiency of a leviathan abattoir. When the animals were almost completely decimated, the hue and cry of conservationists was heeded in most parts of the world, and the great harpoon ships docked for good. Twenty years ago, Japan was still maneuvering defiantly to expand and increase their so-called “research” whaling. It’s funny, in a sickly ironic way, to read about America’s hopes that if they just give Japan this or that maybe they’ll stop their whaling once and for all. Um, no.

What I disliked about this book was that the author wrote of whales as “crops” like so many bushels of corn. He does not take a strong anti-whaling position, but rather the “wise use” view that these sentient beings can be killed, as long as they aren’t killed too much. At one point, the text reads:

Terrestrial wildlife managers have learned that no species can stand continued decimation without efforts of programs to stabilize their populations. This is as true for whales as it is for deer, waterfowl, and other game species. ... Whales must be wisely managed if they are to remain a viable natural resource. Annual catches of whales must be geared to what is known as the maximum sustainable yield. What this means is that only those whales should be taken that can be killed without endangering the ability of the species to sustain and reproduce itself.

Sigh.

In addition to large-scale whaling, other hazards to whales are discussed, including pollution and the apparent continual threat of floating plastic debris. The accidental deaths of whales and dolphins as a byproduct of the commercial fishing industry is discussed at length. Nowadays, we all recognize the “Dolphin Safe” label, and we like to think tuna companies really do care about Flipper as they claim to. Of course, those who have dealt at all with animal use industries shouldn’t be surprised that when the US government tried to get a handle on the indiscriminate dolphin killing, “the American Tunaboat Association strongly objected to those proposed regulations.” Of course!

Whales also offers a historical look at Greenpeace, back when they were getting between whales and harpoon boats and engaging in other daring escapades. (The group was also identified as an “animal rights organization” on the dust jacket, a characterization that certainly doesn’t fit today.) Now Greenpeace is the staid if slightly crunchy group that seems to take no strong positions, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are the folks who give whalers headaches these days.
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