Montana Western Professor Publishes Essay on History of Commercial Whaling

University of Montana Western Professor of European History, Dr. Bill Janus, recently had an essay titled “Songs Whales Sing: The Peculiar History of Commercial Whaling” published in The Revelator, an online news and idea initiative of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Plate from the 1839 book, The Natural History of the Sperm Whale. Public domain.

The Revelator provides “editorially independent reporting, analysis and stories at the intersection of politics, conservation, art, culture, endangered species, climate change, economics and the future of wild species, wild places and the planet.”

“Songs Whales Sing” is about the history of commercial whaling and how iconoclastic 1960s figures ultimately were able to put an end to commercial whaling.

Commercial whaling had “a bloody history, one emblazoned in many peoples’ minds by the later image of Herman Melville’s tortured Ahab relentlessly hunting the beleaguered Moby Dick,” writes Janus. “But this semi-Romantic image of 19th century whalers silently sweeping across the globe on unfurled sails in search of profit and adventure belies a truth. The fact is that the decimation of whales occurred not in those days of the Industrial Revolution but in the mid-20th century. It was during the age of petroleum, not of kerosene, that whales were driven to near extinction.”

But a group of unorthodox hippies stopped this slaughter.  “With appeals to the heart, whales became a unifying symbol of not only a global environmental movement but also of a rejection of cultures of violence, war and death. It was a fleeting moment in time when traditional institutional hegemonies were vigorously questioned. By placing whales in the larger context of an antiestablishment appeal, commercial whaling effectively ended in 1986. Perhaps the whale’s peculiar path to redemption offers a way forward for our planet.”

To read Janus’s “Songs Whales Sing: The Peculiar History of Commercial Whaling” in its entirety, please visit https://therevelator.org/history-commercial-whaling/ . For more information, contact bill.janus@umwestern.edu.

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