Posts Tagged ‘whales’

Animal murderers

12 March 2010

By Juliana Adelman

I doubt the recent killing at SeaWorld can have escaped your notice. On February 24th Tilikum, a killer whale, pulled his trainer, Dawn Brancheau, into a pool by her pony tail and batted her around ‘like a doll’ as one spectator recalled. By the time she was retreived from the whale’s jaws she was dead. Captive animals killing their keepers is nothing new.  Elephants were, and are, among the most common perpetrators.  One of the elephants in Dublin zoo killed her keeper in 1903; the subsequent press coverage was widespread and hit many similar notes to recent coverage of Tilikum.  However, the consequences for the animals were completely opposite.  Well into the twentieth century, the animal’s death was almost certain.  Tilikum will be spared despite having been responsible for at least one other death in the past.  This is no doubt supposed to be evidence that we are currently running a better kind of captivity than a Victorian menagerie.  Instead, I think, it reveals a greater level of hubris.  Now we think we understand animals.  Various explanations have been offered for Tilikum’s behavior, including that Brancheau’s swinging pony tail was provacative.  By coincidence the attack occurred while scientists are debating whether dolphins’ intelligence justifies their being defined as ‘nonhuman persons’ and legislation in Switzerland was mooted which would have allowed animals to have lawyers.  These attitudes are in sharp contrast to those held barely a century before. Read more

Book Review: Leviathan by Philip Hoare

20 October 2009

By Juliana Adelman

leviathanA few weeks ago in a charity shop I bought my son an innocuous looking book entitled The Blue Whale.  We were about ten pages into reading it when, without warning, I turned the page to find a scene of gore that might have been directed by Quentin Tarantino.  Flipping quickly past, the next page showed cozy domestic images of people using products derived from the previous page’s massacre: margarine, hair products, make up, lamps, brushes.  Most of us hardly think about whaling these days.  In fact, whaling was still a substantial industry in Britain in the 1950s.  The international moratorium on whaling has only been in place since 1986 and is still ignored by some countries.  During the nineteenth century whaling was a huge and highly profitable industry.  It dominated the east coast of America, leaving a legacy of whaling towns (Pronvincetown, Nantucket, New Bedford) and inspiring the classic novel Moby Dick.

Leviathan is a history of whaling as well as a kind of literary journey.  Hoare traces the origins of human interest in and exploitation of the whale using Herman Melville’s Moby Dick as a central theme.  He combines natural history with details of Melville’s life and accounts of his own (Hoare’s) fascination with whales.  The book is not structured historically, despite being historical.  Instead, Hoare uses three parallel narrative strands: his own research process, Melville’s life, and the story of Moby Dick.  Read more