"Inches below the surface, [the whales] appear not so much gray as whitish blue. The immensity of these creatures is overwhelming. Fully grown they reach at least thirty-five feet in length and weigh more than thirty tons -- ten times the size of a large elephant. The mother dwarfs our little boat. The calf is nearly one-third her size. With a mere flick of the tail, either whale could overturn us." "Eye of the Whale" focuses on one great whale in particular -- the coastal-traveling California gray whale. Gray whales make the longest migration of any mammal -- from the lagoons of Baja California to the feeding grounds of the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia (nearly 6,000 miles). That the gray whale exists today is nothing short of miraculous. Whaling fleets twice massacred the species to near extinction -- first during the nineteenth century and again during the early part of the twentieth century. As they moved in for the kill, whalers claimed their prey by naming it: "Hard-Head"; "Devil-fish"; "sea-serpent crossed with an alligator." These ominous tags suggest a fearsome creature, yet today the grays are most commonly known as the friendly whale, the species that inspired the whale-watching industry. "Eye of the Whale" shows the life-changing effect the gray whale has had upon people past and present -- whalers, hunters, marine scientists, whale watchers, and even businessmen -- who have looked into the eye of a whale and have come away transformed. Over the course of this astonishing book, the gray whale emerges as a millennial metaphor, mirroring a host of ecological, political, and social issues concerning our relationship to nature. The book also tracesthe remarkable story of Charles Melville Scammon, the whaling captain responsible for bringing gray whales to the brink of extinction after discovering the Baja lagoons in the 1850s to 1860s. Paradoxically, he went on to become one of the most renowned naturalist writers of his time, and in 1874 authored and illustrated a still-definitive work, "The Marine Mammals of the North-Western Coast of North America." More than a hundred years later, author Dick Russell sets out to track the migration of the gray whale and to retrace Scammon's own path. This epic journey stretches from Mexico to California, Oregon, Washington, Vancouver Island, Alaska, and into Siberia and even remote Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East. In these exotic locales seethe the current controversies surrounding the gray whale: an effort by Mitsubishi and the Mexican government to build a massive new salt factory within its pristine nursery area; the Makah tribe's renewed hunting of gray whales after a hiatus of seventy years; Japan's recruitment of the Makah and other indigenous peoples in their quest to resurrect commercial whaling. "Eye of the Whale" is a stunning work of scientific reporting and travel writing that greatly advances our understanding not only of the gray whale but of the natural world. While it may be impossible to know for certain the fate of this majestic creature, with Russell's sage guidance we may glimpse it -- in the eye of the whale.
About Dick Russell
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Published July 31, 2001
by Simon & Schuster.
Nature & Wildlife, Science & Math.