Zoologists call whales and dolphins “charismatic megafauna” and it’s easy to see why. People are fascinated with sea mammals. For thousands of years, they have been the subject of religious myth, worship, and reverence. Their size is certainly part of the fascination. The blue whale is the largest animal on planet Earth. But they are also renowned for an intelligence that is rather unique in the animal kingdom. Whales, dolphins, and elephants are the only non-primate creatures that have this human-like wisdom. They have culture and tradition. They have complex social lives. And yet, for centuries humans have been killing these magnificent creatures. We have used their blubber for candles and their baleen for corsets. We have eaten their meat and gotten rich off of their destruction. Today, we are finally beginning to recognize the importance of these incredible creatures. As our oceans warm up and acidify, poachers still roam the waters, and policy ties the hands of conservationists, people are rallying around a single cause: saving the whales.
When I was a little girl (like many dreamy-eyed little girls) I wanted to be a marine biologist. I was fascinated by whales: their enormous bodies, buoyed by undulating ocean currents; their ultrasonic songs, traveling hundreds of miles through the water like whispers with wings; and their mysterious lives, hidden from the prying eyes of researchers, lived deep beneath the shimmering surface. To me, nothing was more beautiful, more magical, or more exciting. Then I learned about whaling and the bloody history of commerce on the open water. I learned about strandings, the result of sonic pollution, and saw pictures in the newspaper of hundreds of glorious humpbacks drying to dust in the noon sun.