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War of the Whales: A True Story

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,292 ratings  ·  229 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
Hardcover, 426 pages
Published July 1st 2014 by Simon Schuster
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Holly B
Jun 05, 2014 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 ...more
Jul 02, 2014 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 ...more
Jul 28, 2014 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:
Pam Giarrizzo
Jul 06, 2014 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.
Melissa I
May 29, 2014 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
Aug 16, 2014 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.

Mani Gardner
May 21, 2014 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 ...more
May 29, 2014 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. ...more
Schuyler Wallace
Jul 05, 2014 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
Galen Johnson
Apr 04, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I really think this is a story that should be widely disseminated, and Horwitz obviously did a lot of research and presented it in a readable way.

However, I found a lot of errors. For example, Horwitz writes "Even the deepest-diving of modern military submarines can't dive as deep as a big whale. [Footnote: The deepest-diving military submarines...reached crush depth at 3,700 feet meters. Cuvier's beaked whales have been measured to dive almost 1,000 feet.]" Neither of those numbers are
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 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 ...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.
Nov 10, 2014 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 26, 2014 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.
Jun 10, 2014 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.
Hayley Chwazik-Gee
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I suppose I was looking for a thrilling undercover story full of twists and turns when I picked up this book. It ended up being more of a detailed, slow, and technical account of the Navy’s impact on whales. Expertly researched, but a little bit too dense for those of us with little background in law / military / sonar. My one critique about the actual writing was that the characters were hard to follow and there were so many involved. I would recommend this book for anyone considering a career ...more
This is a book I should have rated highly (I can't say "enjoyed" as it is about whales dying due to humans training for fucking war.) but could not for a number of reasons. First of all, I thought the focus was far too heavy on people and far too little on whales, ya know...the point of the book. I grew quite tired of listening to all these details about every person included in the book while whales, even specific whale species, got limited focus. The book also jumps around far too much in ...more
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
Ryan Hartman
May 10, 2017 rated it liked it
In my modest opinion, the military sucks: all branches in every country no matter how far back in time you go. When I picked up “War of the Whales,” I certainly didn't expect to have these views not only cemented but also given more ammo. Although the book is mainly concerned with the Navy and their treatment of whales. I believe we can replace the world Navy with any other branch and replace whales with any other part of the environment and this book would not have changed much.
While my
Jul 21, 2014 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
Aug 04, 2014 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 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
I should have liked this book that touches on so many of my interests. But.... The writing is poor and unfocused, with far too many diversions into the personal lives of the characters, many things presented as facts are wrong, names are mixed up, and the author's refusal to use the NMFS acronym was incredibly annoying.
Jun 06, 2014 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 ...more
Sep 24, 2014 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
Joseph Street
Sep 15, 2014 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 ...more
Rosie Umstattd
Apr 21, 2015 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 ...more
Ben Everhart
Jun 27, 2015 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 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 ...more
Jul 07, 2014 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.
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Lit Lawvers: War of the Whales (December 2014) 10 21 Dec 22, 2014 04:48AM  

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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” 2 likes
“For the past 15 years, the Earthwatch volunteer program had provided the sole financial support for the decadelong photo-identification survey of the beaked whales here in the Bahamas and of the killer whales in the Pacific Northwest. The Earthlings, as Ken and Diane called them, traveled from across the United States and around the world to assist their survey and to catch a fleeting glance of the deepest-diving creatures in the ocean: the beaked whales that lived inside the underwater canyon offshore from Sandy Point. For the most part, they were altruistic tourists, from teenagers to golden-agers, looking for a useful vacation from the winter doldrums up north. At Sandy Point, they could learn a little about whales, lend a hand in a righteous eco-science project, and enjoy the Bahamian sunshine.” 0 likes
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