We Are All Whalers

This is the title of a new book by Dr. Michael Moore, a veterinarian and whale biologist. Not to be confused with the Michael Moore of Bowling for Columbine fame. The title certainly caught my attention. I heard about the book through a newsletter I receive from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Mass. The organization has mad ecological street cred and they are geographically situated near the epienter of North Atlantic whaling during its heyday.

What most intrigued me about the book and the recently held webinar interview and reading with the author was the fact that he is a veterinarian. Turns out I missed the live webinar but they kindly sent me a recording.

The story is about the plight of the North Atlantic Right Whale, numbering less than 400 individuals. It is a baleen whale that is second only in mass to the blue whale. No one really knows its etymology. The story, at least according to the webinar (the book is in my Amazon cart), is also about how whales die, and about one man’s crusade to stop whale entanglement in fishing gear.

Not for the feint of heart, images and tales of boat props cutting into right whales and lobster pot endlines entangling others took center stage. Many of these images were taken by Moore who has performed dozens of whale autopsies. Also central was a remarkably generous assessment of how humane harpoon hunting was and is (Japan, Iceland, Norway, and probably China) compared with the slow starvation and suffocation deaths caused by entanglement. I was shocked that I had never considered how much pain and suffering is caused by entanglement and how long and drawn out an entanglement death is. The comparison was stark. Entanglement deaths far outweigh hunting deaths today, of course.

I left with a great deal of respect for Moore, whom despite his emotional connection to and passion for saving this beautiful creature, was not despondent nor cynical. He put forward thoughtful and practical gear modification solutions. He sees the need for and desires to see commercial fishing continue with reduced harm to these intelligent and beautiful cetaceans. Moore revealed great depth and balance in his interview. Each passage he read left me wanting more. I include one quote below to whet your appetite. In it Moore discusses the inner conflict he confronted while writing the story.

“the advocate that veterinarians are, veterinarians are above all else advocates for their patients, balanced by the analyst scientist . . . the conflict was the extent to which I could and should tell the story of how these animals were dying, how they were in pain and suffering. Ultimately and actually quite recently I resolved that anthropogenic trauma begets and deserves anthropomorphism.” 

The “We” in We Are All Whalers are the vast majority of us who enjoy seafood. Moore makes the case that we should know how our dinner made it to the table. If the death of a right whale were required I would certainly think differently about the lobster on my plate. 

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