NOTE: We normally don’t publish outside articles, but this review of a new book on whales has had a big impact on us. We thought we would share it.
From the “New Yorker”:
A few months ago I learned that, as recently as 1972, General Motors was using sperm-whale oil in transmission fluid in its cars. I’m not sure why I was surprised to learn this. It took nearly another decade for much of the world to agree to ban commercial whaling, in 1982. (A handful of countries still ignore the ban.) But the detail about G.M. still struck me as anachronistic. The global pursuit of whales inescapably connotes the romance of nineteenth-century New Bedford and Nantucket: delicately embossed scrimshaw, Melville, oil paintings of stately twilit schooners setting out on the main. Not puke-green Chevy El Caminos.
In his new book, “Spying on Whales,” the Smithsonian paleontologist Nick Pyenson illuminates just how mistaken this popular conception is. He invites the reader to consider the almost satanic landscape of twentieth-century whaling, when it took on the guise of a mechanized, diesel-powered, global killing machine that hit its crescendo after the Second World War.