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A Whale Hunt Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 17, 2000
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1999, a small armada of animal rights activists, TV crews and Coast Guard ships swarmed around a canoe off the coast of Washington State carrying seven Makah Indians as they hunted and killed a gray whale for the first time in living memory. The activists were attempting to halt the slaughter of an animal only recently removed from the endangered species list, while the Makahs were reviving a whaling tradition that had been dormant for generations. For visiting journalist Sullivan (who made a splash last year with his quirky natural and social history of The Meadowlands of New Jersey), it was an irresistible story. SullivanDwho writes like a hipper, edgier William Least Heat Moon and spent two years with the MakahDgives a kind of outsider's insider view of the hunt's preparation and aftermath, from the private anxieties of the tribespeople to the external pressure from the U.S. government, which insisted that the whale be killed "humanely" with a bullet in the brain immediately after the harpoon strike. He also provides funny commentary on subjects like neighboring Seattle ("a city filled with people who walk around in technologically advanced outdoor fabrics") and the too-easily ridiculed animal rights protesters. But Sullivan never quite communicates why the whale hunt was so important to him personally, or what it really meant to the Makah themselves. Did they actually hope to restore tribal heritage and pride? Or were they merely aiming to get rich by selling whale meat to the Japanese, as the animal rights protestors alleged? Sullivan mostly ducks these questions, which may disappoint those who come to this wry and sympathetic account for a hard-hitting look at the issues it raises, rather than to ride along with its engaging author. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The Makah are a Native American tribe living on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. The gray whale is a migratory cetacean, hunted for generations by the Makah and other coastal tribes until it was nearly driven extinct by commercial whaling. A moratorium on all hunting of the gray whale was declared, and the Makah had not hunted whales in 70 years. In 1995 the gray whale was taken off the endangered species list, and the Makah began a legal battle to resume whaling. There was only one problem: all of the old whalers were dead, and the tribe had to reinvent the techniques and traditions of whaling. Sullivan, a former newspaper reporter, spent two years with the Makah as they built a whaling canoe, chose and trained a crew, and taught themselves how to catch and kill a 35-45 foot sea mammal. Along the way, animal-rights activists, the Coast Guard, a German film crew, other Native Americans, and a fleet of reporters get involved, so that by the time the Makah hunters try for their first whale a fullfledged media circus is well underway, with the hunts and the reactions of the protestors being carried on live TV. Sullivan's wry reporting, with sympathy for all of the participants in the hunt (including the whales), puts the reader right into the midst of the action. No matter where one stands on the subject of aboriginal whaling rights, this book will be fascinating reading. Nancy Bent
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Top customer reviews
The book is the greatest memoir I have ever read. The book gets a little wordy, but the writing is full of vivid details. I think the author provides thoughtful insight into the whale hunt through numerous conversations and interactions with local Makah Indians. I do agree with a previous reviewer that the author's viewpoint did seem slightly biased toward the Makah, but not enough to ruin the book. Some previous reviewers commented on the accuracy of the book. To be honest, I do not know enough about the topic to note whether the author's story is inaccurate or not.
I purchased the book as I wanted to find out more about the Makah whale hunt, as I did not realize the significance of the hunt to the Northwest Indians at the time it happened. Judging by the title of the book and the previous reviews, this did not seem like a bad choice. However, while the book is an excellent memoir, in the end it is a memoir of some journalist I have never heard of. I admire the author's dedication to the story as he followed it for well over a year while other reporters only seemed to appear when they though something will happen. In the end, I really did not care if the author slept in a tent or a plywood shack and I really did not find the type of car he rented to be especially relevant. While I am sure the trip to see the gray whales in the Baja Peninsula in Mexico was a moving experience, I really did not feel it fit into the overall storyline of the book. Also, I personally found the whole Moby Dick parallel to be incredibly irritating.
The book is an excellent read, though it does get wordy at times and some of the subjects do not seem to have much relevance to the storyline. The author had a lot of interaction with the Makah Indians who were on the whaling crew. For this reason, I would recommend the book to anyone who is interested in the Makah gray whale hunt. I would also recommend the book for anyone who is interested in the modern life of Northwest coastal Indians or who are bored and just looking for some decent non-fiction to read.
In the late 1990’s the Makah tribe in the Pacific Northwest decided to revive their ancient tradition of whale hunting and this decision created a news sensation with local and national media reporting and the Sea Shepherd organization getting involved. Sullivan was on the scene capturing it all with some solid reporting, but with a scope limited by the tribe members who gave him access. He delves deeply into tribal history and captures the infighting among the members about the scope of the hunt and who would be in charge. But too often he goes into the trials and tribulations he faced in getting the story and added to that a labored Moby-Dick analogy that he peppers as footnotes throughout the book, and you end up with a padded magazine article that should have been much better considering the source material.