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Book description
Five chapters each focusing on one species of whale: humpback, northern bottlenose, orca (actually a dolphin), minke, and blue. Lots of good information paired with a flowing writing style (I didnt find it dry as others have noted). Chadwick does an excellent job of combining scientific inquiry with true wonder, a fine line territory to dwell, and a mark of the new approach to ethology that is becoming more and more prevalent:Humans think they are special creatures, and we are. But trying to hoard certain valued qualities for Homo sapiens just by defining them as exclusively human is becoming a lost cause. Its bad science because its driven by dogma, and it holds us back from learning exactly what it is that does make us unique. It cant be culture, language abilities, complex emotions, abstract thought, foresight, moral judgement, or a sense of self, because all those traits appear to have been demonstrated by at least one other species. And it cant be the vaunted size of our brains. Neanderthal brains were bigger than those of modern humans. Those of killer whales are four times the weight of ours.In seeing that a writer/scientist takes that view, I am more prone to pay attention to what he has to say.In writing about whales, one really cannot ignore the disgusting business of whaling, which isnt even completely a historical footnote yet, thanks to some backwards human thinking of Norway and Japan and the regulatory International Whaling Commission. The chapter about minke whales delves into this, they being the most common whale hunted. As with anything else Ive ever learned about modern whaling, the facts (when they arent obfuscated by propaganda) speak for themselves, and the thinly veiled lies and rationalizations make me sick. Indeed, the author cant refrain from being opinionated about this, even after consuming whale in Norway and Japan, which confused me, but there is this passage: Thus, those two thousand minkes annually hauled aboard whaleboats symbolize a much larger issue that the world is going to have to confront not long from now. I made an effort to meet people involved with the taking and selling of minke whales in both Norway and Japan and tried to better understand their views. It didnt change my opinion that commercial whaling trivializes magnificent lives, brushes aside widespread human sympathies, and undermines our sense of wonder at creation every time the sea turns red.And later explained:It is that our humanity is defined in part by the moral decisions we make. Sooner or later, we are going to have to address those hard choices between the convenience of treating animals as commodities and our ethical responsibility toward sentient beings. Whales could be the starting point.... I suspect that, deep down, we know which way we are supposed to go. Despite my different forays into minke dining, I never considered ordering a meal of whale apart from my role as a journalist. Im not really comfortable eating anything that huge and mysterious, least of all when it might very well be smarter than I am.Not that I agree that intelligence need be a marker for which beings we should treat with morality, but if whales can indeed be a starting point, so be it. Sadly, you cant just have one starting point when it comes to the biology and health of the oceans and planet, but seriously Japan and Norway- just stop. Traditions schmaditions. Whaling isnt even all that traditional, especially not with motorized ships and harpoons.Cetaceans are extremely fascinating (though every animal is when you focus on learning about them), and perhaps appear even more fascinating because there is still so many unknowns. Unknowns that I hope will one day become knowledge, if we humans dont destroy that possibility first.
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