Review of War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz

War of the Whales

War of the Whales

(Check out that link, if only to hear the echoing sonar)

I’ve been on a bit of a book kick lately and still have a pile waiting for me. I definitely recommend this one on whales, the Navy, and the legal system all the way up to the Supreme Court. Although, if your views run anything akin to mine, you will need to find a sturdy wall to bang your head against at multiple points.

Meticulously researched for 6 years, this book weaves together complex and competing national security, environmental, and legal concepts. It illuminates impacts of human activity that are not often considered. Human activity has permeated everywhere. Even the deep ocean is haunted by our sounds.

Exhibit One: “Of the 200 [marine mammals in 1999] that stranded alive [on U.S. shorelines], some were euthanized on the beach by Fisheries officials. Most of the others soon died of exposure to the elements, or suffocated when their bodies collapsed under their own weight, or drowned when the high tide washed over their blowholes. Only five marine mammals that stranded alive that year were actually rescued from the beach and returned to the ocean.” (pg. 70).

Exhibit Two: “The Marine Mammal Protection Act had been on the books for almost 20 years, but the Navy had never applied for a permit–as the law mandated–for any experiment or exercise that might ‘injure or harass’ any marine mammals.” (pg. 162) Essentially, underwater sonar activities went unregulated until the mass stranding in 2000 set activists in motion.

Exhibit Three:  “[A key lawyer] Reynolds wondered if saving the whales was simply a grandiose fantasy. Having barely escaped commercial whaling, were the survivors doomed to be overrun by the ceaseless naval arms race after more and more powerful acoustic weapons? Would judges and politicians continue to defer to admirals in their ‘balance of hardships’ calculations, until there were no more whales left to save?” (pg. 344-345)


American Cetacean Society

Cuvier’s Beaked Whales

Washington Post Book Review

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