Men and Whales

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

MEN AND WHALES is both an informed history of commercial whaling and a passionate plea for its elimination. The whale, or Leviathan, has always fascinated the human imagination. Long a symbol of the power of nature, the whale has more recently become a symbol of the plight of all endangered creatures. There are about seventy-five species of these aquatic mammals, which include the greatest of all earth’s creatures. Of these, the ten species of great whales most need permanent protection.

Richard Ellis documents the long history of whale-hunting, both inshore and pelagic whaling, showing how greed, national pride, and indifference have steadily depleted most whale species. Traditionally, whales have been hunted for their oil, blubber, meat, and baleen (for corsets and stays), but their slaughter has continued even after commercial substitutes for whale products have become available. With the advent of exploding harpoons, motorized tracking boats, and large factory ships, it became possible to track the whales to their most inaccessible breeding grounds in the Arctic and Antarctic, reducing their numbers to the verge of extinction. The United States has led international efforts to protect the whale, but other nations, such as Japan, Iceland, and Norway, have resisted efforts to curtail whaling. Ellis shows how international regulation, through the International Whaling Commission (IWC), has been largely ineffectual. If a permanent ban on commercial whaling is to occur, it will more likely come about through efforts of environmental groups such as Greenpeace, who have raised public consciousness about the plight of the whales.

In MEN AND WHALES, Richard Ellis has written an eloquent plea to protect the great whales and to end what he calls “a protracted war” on another species.