Joshua Horwitz's acknowledgments at the end of this wonderful book sum up the extraordinary story he has told: "Researching and writing this book turned into a seven-year odyssey that took me around the world and, at times, around the bend."
Indeed, he has succeeded in taking on a complex mixture of science, law, politics, and warfare and turning out a lucid, fascinating and frustrating depiction of the state of marine mammal welfare in our country. The story begins with the mass stranding of beaked whales off the coast of the Abaco Islands in the Bahamas, where Kenneth Balcomb, former Naval officer and current field scientist, and his wife Diane Claridge were operating the Earthwatch Institute, which surveyed beaked whales in the Bahamas, and orcas in the Pacific Northwest. The stranding was bewildering to Balcomb. As he dug into the reasons behind it, he became embroiled in a conflict with the United States Navy. He was met with silence, secrecy, and in some cases, out and out lies.
Joel Reynolds is an advocacy lawyer whose passion and brilliance have driven him to fight the destruction of the environment and to protect endangered species, often at a cost to his personal life. He and Balcomb eventually join forces in a fight to save the whales from the Navy's continued use of sonar in their war games.
Mr. Horwitz does acknowledge the importance of war games in peacetime, and gives voice to the admirals who are so protective of their operations, even though they do admit to the devastating results of their games on the marine mammals. But as the Navy pushes to be allowed up to 90 percent of the world's oceans for their tests, the Natural Resources Defense Council, for whom Reynolds serves as senior attorney, tries to negotiate for just 2 or 3 percent. The NRDC has public support, thanks to the ongoing activism of various groups, and even some legal support. But at the time, post-9/11, they could not fight the political push for military strength at the expense of natural resources as well as civil liberties.
The battles to protect our oceans and to protect our democracy are seemingly at odds, but there are, fortunately, men and women who are willing to stick out their necks, professionally and personally, in order to somehow win both.
This is not only a highly readable account of this war on the whales, but an important call to all of us to take control of our most valuable resources rather than allow political expedience and monetary concerns to destroy them. Extinction is forever, and with each new loss, our own future becomes less certain.