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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

The Last Whales, by Lloyd Abbey. New York, Grove Weidenfeld, 1989. ISBN: 0-8021-1100-9.

Truly an ecological novel, this unique story chronicles the lives of several Great Blue Whales in their desperate but ultimately futile attempts to survive and propagate their species. Set at some unknown date in the present or near future, the whales have to contend with not only the effects of the hole in the Antarctic ozone layer, commercial whalers, heavy marine traffic and other human depredations, not to mention their natural predators: sharks and killer whales, but eventually with the aftermath of a nuclear winter as well.

There are two separate populations of Blue whales, split between the two poles. Both groups migrate toward the equator, while spending their respective summers near the poles. But normally the groups do not interact in any significant way since winter in the north is summer in the south and vice versa. The main characters in this book are a young female Blue from the Antarctic and an enormous old bull from the north, who manage to meet and mate.

The book also chronicles the experiences of a small group of Atlantic Striped Dolphins who had been captured and trained by Navy frogmen in skills useful to military ends, such as planting limpet mines on enemy ships. The dolphins later escaped, but are far outside their normal ranges when they interact with the whales.

We spend much time inside the minds of these creatures, whales and dolphins, experiencing their lives, emotions and instincts through the filter of human imagination. Ultimately this is a story of what could become the fate of our world’s marine mammal populations, given humanity’s unchecked assault on our biosphere. There is no happy ending, but there is a deeply satisfying exploration of the world of the oceans, richly rewarding in its detailed and intimate portrayal of this other realm of which we are generally only dimly aware.


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