BOOKS: Harpoon: Into the heart of whaling

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2008:

Into the heart of whaling
by Andrew Darby
DaCapo Press (11 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142), 2008.
320 pages, hardcover. $25.00.

Long covering whaling and whale-related politics for the
Melbourne Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, Andrew Darby enjoys a
reputation as the best there ever was on the whale beat, at least
since Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick. He does well on other
animal-related news beats too. More than 50 Darby articles have
informed ANIMAL PEOPLE coverage of marine mammals, Australian
wildlife, and issues involving Australian zoos. Darby’s work is
conspicuous for providing depth of background and inside
perspectives–and although Darby openly favors whales over
whale-killing, some sources within the Japanese whaling industry
appear to be willing to talk to him when they will not talk to anyone

In view of Darby’s history, one might expect Harpoon: Into
the heart of whaling to anthologize his coverage, stitching
individual articles into a narrative illustrated by personal
observation. This is what most veteran journalists produce when they
finally assemble a book about their beat over the past x-number of
years; but if Darby has recycled any material at all, it seems to
be incidental.
Harpoon is actually a history of human interactions with five
iconic whale species. Sections cover right whales, blue whales,
sperm whales, minke whales, and humpbacks. Fin whales don’t get
an individual section, but are also extensively discussed.
Each account begins with exploitation, then traces efforts
to internationally regulate first the killing and then conservation
of the species. There are quite enough variations of the theme to
keep the focus fresh.
Much of Harpoon concerns the devious tactics of whalers over
the centuries. At first they competed to kill whales, and guarded
the secrets of where to find them. Later, the Russian and Japanese
whaling fleets, in particular, killed whales far in excess of the
quotas set by the International Whaling Commission. The Russians
quit whaling, more or less coincidental with the collapse of
Communism, but Japanese excesses first documented on the initial
post-World War II whaling voyage authorized by U.S. General Douglas
MacArthur allegedly continue, albeit under the guise of “research”
whaling since 1988.
The story is far from over. Darby at this writing is en
route to cover the upcoming IWC meeting in Santiago, Chile. Once
again the Japanese delegation is expected to bluster and threaten to
withdraw from the IWC, and to use the threat to kill humpback whales
for “research” to try to extract concessions from the other

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