The Moon by Whale Light

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Diane Ackerman is both an accomplished poet and nature writer; in THE MOON BY WHALE LIGHT these skills are combined to create a prose that illuminates her subject. Originally appearing in THE NEW YORKER, the four essays gathered here have been expanded for book publication. The first essay, “In Praise of Bats,” recounts Ackerman’s trek into the natural environment of the bat. She accompanied experts who shed light on this terribly misunderstood creature. Bats are not the vicious vampires portrayed in fiction and movies. Bats may not be cute in a conventional sense, but as Ackerman describes them up-close, they are shown to be marvelous mammals that serve a very necessary part in the natural scheme of things.

The second essay, “The Eyelids of Morning,” focuses on crocodilians. Ackerman notes how long crocodiles and alligators have been on the Earth. Their ancestry runs directly back to the dinosaurs. The author went to Florida to view alligators firsthand. When looked at closely, the alligator is shown to be a tender parent and a graceful swimmer. Man has been very cruel to crocodilians. Ackerman hopes that dissemination of truthful information concerning this species will increase the possibility of peaceful cohabitation between people and crocodilians.

The third and title essay related Ackerman’s encounter with whales. There are still many unanswered questions about this mammoth creature. Ackerman mentions how the songs of the whale have been studied for many years, but that experts are still baffled as to their meaning. The whale has the largest brain of all the living creatures, and within its natural habitat it is a supreme wonder. If not for humans, the whale would have undisputed dominance of the seas. The fourth and last essay, “White Lanterns,” speaks to the wonderful world of penguins. Penguins—even though thought of as being cute—have also been misunderstood and stereotyped to their detriment. Ackerman has done a great service to the wildlife under discussion. It can only be hoped that as a result of her work and that of other fine nature writers, people will look toward coexisting with wildlife instead of driving an ever-increasing number of creatures to extinction.