by Andrew Darby
DaCapo Press (11 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142), 2008. 320 pages, hardcover. $25.00.
Reviewed by Merritt Clifton
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.
Darby does well on other animal-related news beats too. More than 60 Darby articles have informed my 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 else.
Not a “collected works”
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. Though the International Court of Justice ruled against Japanese “research whaling” in March 2014, Japan, Norway, and Iceland continue to kill whales in defiance of global law and public opinion.