BELUGA DAYS: Tracking a White Whale's Truths

Nancy Lord, Author . Counterpoint $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-58243-151-2

In her newest, Lord (Green Alaska ) pens the trials of the beluga whales—mysterious, graceful creatures in decline everywhere, especially in Cook Inlet, Alaska, where she and her husband fish. She goes on an odyssey, joining conferences that bring together Native hunters with researchers, spending time with marine mammal curators and ecotoxicologists to find out what might be behind the whales' decline and to understand the complex interrelationship between human and animal. The belugas in Cook Inlet are genetically isolated, not migrating as others do. She spots a pod swimming like "white wheels turning," an apt metaphor for Lord's own meditative writing style. Later she finds that belugas, "sophisticated at echolocation," are able in captivity to imitate the sounds of their tanks with "creaks like doors opening on rusty hinges and high-pitched electronic wheezes." She ably narrates the history of beluga and whale hunting, recounting the change from early days of trophy hunting (with souvenir bottles of whale oil) to today's subsistence hunting in Tyonek by the Dena'ina Natives. With skillful writing and respect for all her subjects, Lord presents some of the agonizing scientific and cultural dilemmas of saving these animals. For example, Dena'ina believe that use of the whales is part of a cycle: "If a plant were harvested for food and its unused parts respectfully returned to earth, the old Dena'ina believed, the plant would grow in greater numbers. But if the plant were not used, its numbers would diminish." Lord ends with a powerful though measured call for the human species to take heed of the beluga, as one of nature's great teachers. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/22/2003
Release date: 12/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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