omething amazing started in the late 1970s and continues to this day. Whales, the largest mammals on earth and killers in self-defense of many men, began to show a willingness, indeed an eagerness, to be friends with humankind to a degree never before recorded. From gently nudging boats to begging to be petted, the behavioral turnaround among these behemoth creatures has captivated the imaginations and affections of thousands of whalewatchers.
Eye of the Whale offers a persuasive and very readable study of the current state of whale-human affairs. Those who are sympathetic (like me) to the whales' cause will find equal grounds in the book for alarm and hope. From Baja California, the birthing and nursing waters of the Eastern Pacific gray whale, to Siberia, where the Western Pacific population is on the verge of oblivion, environmental writer and activist (he was instrumental in saving the Atlantic striped bass) Dick Russell follows the migration pattern of the gentle giant. He seems to examine almost everyone and everything along the way that might have an effect on the creatures' progress from geography and economics to the human heart itself.
Giving thrust to the story is the ongoing environmental fight against Mitsubishi, one of the largest corporations in the world, which sought to commercialize the Baja beaches resulting in the inevitable destruction of gray whale habitat. Another constant presence is that of Charles Melville Scammon, a 19th century whaler and sea captain whose written descriptions and drawings of whales and other sea creatures, landscapes and natural phenomena are included in the book and reveal a 21st century sensitivity.
"That intense, that immense and impeccable, eye" of the whale seems to cast a mythic spell over all those, even enemies, who have gazed into it up close. The number of the spellbound is increasing. Bruce Mate, an Illinois marine biologist interviewed by Russell, sees whales as avatars of a whole new world not all that far in the future. "I think, probably, in our children's generation, we're going to see remarkable changes in our relationships with certain forms of wildlife," he says.
If so, Eye of the Whale will have played, in its enthralling way, a small but important role in the transformation.
Maude McDaniel writes from Cumberland, Maryland.