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Beluga Days: Tracking a White Whale's Truths Paperback – December 23, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Writer and commercial fisherman Lord has been observing beluga whales for years, and when the population began to decline in the 1990s, she decided to look into the causes. In an intriguing blend of scientific writing and impassioned journal of discovery, the author tells of her discussions with the people involved in all levels of the search for the cause of the belugas' decrease. Talks with environmentalists, who tended to be territorial and not prone to work together; Alaskan Natives, whose aboriginal hunting rights were blamed for the decline; and scientists, who also blamed pollution, disturbance, and habitat destruction, reveal a complex web of causes for the loss of the belugas. Lord's personal activism shines through in her account but does not prejudice or visibly color her description of other points of view. This story of a population of whales and the evolution of an environmentalist will get readers to think about the relationship between humans and the natural world. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
At times, it's hard to figure the author's position. Does she support the hunt for beluga whales, or does she want it stopped to save the species? Does she believe in the sanctity of native traditions, no matter what they are? And why does she tell us, not once, but twice that she "kills" salmon for a living? Is she unsure of how she really feels about the slaughter of a whale, even if it is for subsistence, especially in a place like a tiny Alaskan village where one dead whale puts food in the bellies of an entire community?
The author paints the picture of Alaskan life well, and reaches deeply into the natural history of the beluga whale. This book fills the bill for someone interested in the white whale's story, and shows just how many sides there are to the political struggle to keep an animal species alive.
Lord has managed to write an extremely informative novel without making it too complex or "wordy," as is the case with many science and nature-based works. Her style of writing held my interest but still relayed information. I also appreciated the unbiased point of view from which she writes. Lord obviously wants the population to thrive once more in Cook Inlet, but she also understands the significance of native hunting and discusses different opinions on the best ways to save this population.
One thing about Beluga Days which I disliked was the monotony of its having such a finite subject matter. The majority of this novel discusses only one distinct population and the information starts to seem repetitive after reading for long periods of time. This makes Beluga Days a difficult novel to read in one sitting.
Although this book would not be of interest to everyone I would recommend it to anyone interested in cetaceans or nature in general. At some points it may be easier to comprehend with some previous knowledge of whales, but is written simply enough so that most people can appreciate it.
Lord talks with native hunters and expert scientists at conferences in Alaska and learns that overhunting and contamination are major concerns to Cook Inlet belugas. She travels all over to talk to many scientists about their own thoughts and concerns. She is able to board a research vessel as scientists do population counts, captures and tagging. Lord balances her education with a more casual visit to observe captive belugas at a zoo for a closer look. She doesn't restrict herelf to Cook Inlet belugas though; she participates in research about the St. Lawrence belugas and the connections with contamination. All of these are some of the captivating experiences that shape Lord's understanding of what is being done to, hopefully, save the beluga's.
Lord's style of writing helps the reader to become educated right along with her. She asks questions that any person would be compelled to ask and it made the book all the easier to be drawn into. It is quite easy to read although some difficult words work their way in occasionally.
She does have a tendency to go back to previous concerns, making it repetitive at times. Usually it's about the controversy over whether or not native hunters are the beluga's largest threat.
Overall, it is an intriguing book and would probably be best for people interested in any sort of nature or marine topics. I would recommend it especially to those interested in what goes on behind the scenes as far as research, getting an animal listed for concern or beluga depletion in general.