cover image War of the Whales: A True Story

War of the Whales: A True Story

Joshua Horwitz. Simon & Schuster, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-1-4516-4501-9

In March of 2000, on Abaco Island in the Bahamas, a group of volunteers surrounded Ken Balcomb and his wife and research partner, Diane Claridge, eager to learn more about the Cuvier’s and Blainville’s beaked whales of the Great Bahama Canyon. Panic ensued as one of Balcomb’s assistants delivered news of a stranded whale nearby. Although the volunteers were able to free this whale and push it back to deeper water, they learned of numerous strandings on several islands, and the mystery, along with Balcomb’s quest to solve it, began. In this gripping detective tale, science writer Horwitz recreates a day-by-day account of the quest to find the reasons for the mass strandings; their discovery of the probable cause—the U.S. Navy’s use of high-intensity active sonar; the Navy’s resistance and cover-up of their use of sonar in the area; and the drawn-out struggles between Balcomb, Joel Reynolds of the Natural Resources Defence Council, and the Navy. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that public interest lay in “securing the strongest military defense rather than in enforcing marine mammal protection,” yet five years later continued research further solidified the position of various parties within the environmental movement that noise pollution poses grave threats to whales. Horwitz’s riveting story illuminates the many challenges continuing to face environmentalists working with marine mammals. (July)