North Atlantic Right Whales: From Hunted Leviathan to Conservation Icon

Front Cover
JHU Press, Apr 13, 2017 - Science - 464 pages

In the cold waters of the unforgiving North Atlantic Ocean, some of the heartiest humans of medieval days ventured out in search of whales. Through the centuries, people on both sides of the Atlantic became increasingly dependent on whale oil and other cetacean products. To meet this growing demand, whaling became ever more sophisticated and intense, leading to the collapse of what was once a seemingly inexhaustible supply of large cetaceans. Central to the whale’s subsequent struggle for existence has been one species--the North Atlantic right whale. Conservationist David W. Laist now provides the first complete history of the North Atlantic right whale, from its earliest encounters with humans to its close brush with extinction, to its currently precarious yet hopeful status as a conservation icon.

Favored by whalers because of their high yields of oil and superior baleen, these giants became known as "the right whale to hunt," and their numbers dwindled to a mere 100 individuals worldwide. Their dire status encouraged the adoption of a ban on hunting and a treaty that formed the International Whaling Commission. Recovery of the species, however, has proven elusive. Ship strikes and entanglement in commercial fishing gear have hampered herculean efforts to restore the population. Today, only about 500 right whales live along the US and Canadian Atlantic coasts--an improvement from the early twentieth century, but still a far cry from the thousands that once graced Atlantic waters.

Laist’s masterpiece features an incredible collection of photographs and artwork that give life to the fascinating history that unfolds in its pages. The result is a single volume that offers a comprehensive understanding of North Atlantic right whales, the role they played in the many cultures that hunted them, and our modern attempts to help them recover.

-- James G. Mead, Curator Emeritus of Marine Mammals, Smithsonian Institution
 

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Contents

1 Rescuing Nantucket
1
2 Whats in a Name?
16
3 Foraging with a Smile
33
4 Evolution
55
5 The Origin of Whaling
72
6 Medieval Whaling in Northern Europe
83
7 Ghost Whalers
101
8 Basque Whaling in Terranova
120
14 Whaling from the Carolinas to Florida
228
15 Estimating Preexploitation Population Size
251
16 A Second Chance
266
17 A Dedicated Recovery Program
276
18 Nobody Wants to Hit a Whale
300
19 Slow Speed Ahead
317
20 Entanglement
347
21 Oh What a Tangled Web
367

9 The Dawn of International Whaling
149
10 A Fitful Start for Colonial Whalers
165
11 Long Island Whaling
179
12 Cape Cod Whaling
196
13 Nantucket Marthas Vineyard and Cape May
214
22 Ten Thousand Right Whales
406
Appendix
419
Index
423
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About the author (2017)

Scientist David W. Laist is a senior policy and program analyst for the US Marine Mammal Commission.

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