17 August 2010

Our guest tonight is Douglas Carlton Abrams author of a new novel called, The Eye of the Whale. It is a “eco adventure” story that focuses on the dangers to the whale population through hunting and through ocean pollution. In researching the novel, Doug investigated problems facing the whale population, and we’ll talk with him about what he discovered.

Listen to the program.

Background on Whale Issues

We’ll begin with some alarming headlines compiled by Ashley Anderson, publicist for Doug Abrams, with whom we’ll be talking:

A beached whale in Seattle garnered headlines in April 2010 because its stomach was full of plastic and beach towels.• Beluga whales in the remote Hudson Bay are so filled with industrial chemicals, including plasticizers, that they must be treated like toxic waste when their dead bodies wash up on shore.• Congressman Jim Moran of Northern Virginia and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts introduced The Endocrine Disruption Prevention Act in December 2009 to explore linkages between hormone disrupting chemicals in the environment and everyday goods and the dramatic increase of autism, hyperactivity, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer, prostate cancer and other hormone related disorders.• Childhood cancer is up by 26 percent, making cancer the greatest threat to children.• 1 in 3 women will develop cancer. 1 in 2 men will develop cancer. • Male fish across the country are developing eggs.• Time Magazine recently published a feature article, “The Perils of Plastic,” investigating endocrine disrupting chemicals found in everyday products.

 The connections among those various headlines about whales and people will become clear later in the show.

In more positive news: The National Resources Defense Council reported in late June that efforts to rescind the 1986 ban on commercial whaling have been thwarted, at least temporarily:

 In a move welcomed by conservationists and pro-whale countries around the world, the International Whaling Commission […] announced that it would postpone a compromise proposal that would have legalized commercial whaling. This move is a dramatic turnaround from years of secret, closed-door negotiations that led to the compromise proposal — a proposal that would have sacrificed the quarter-century old ban on commercial whaling in an attempt to rein in Japan, Iceland and Norway’s annual killings.[The National Resources Defense Council] believes the whaling moratorium to be one of the 20th century’s most iconic conservation victories. It has saved hundreds of thousands of whales since it took effect in 1986. […]


Taryn Kiekow, staff attorney with NRDC’s marine mammal protection program, said:

 “I’m cautiously optimistic. If the pro-whaling compromise is indeed off the table, that will be a huge victory for the whales against terrific odds. The Commission tasked with protecting these mammals has shown great leadership by refusing to adopt a proposal that could have led to the extinction of some already endangered and threatened species.”

Still, it is not enough that the decision is delayed. The International Whaling Commission must reaffirm its dedication to the preservation and protection of whales around the world. Now is the time to push for the conservation of whales — without trading away the moratorium. Every day marine mammals face new attacks from entanglement, ship strikes, and pollution. It was reckless for the Commission to even consider sanctioning their slaughter at this time.”

 [Even so, NRDC reports that ] Japan, Iceland and Norway have killed roughly 35,000 whales since the moratorium was introduced in 1986. In Japan’s case, the killings have been justified under the guise of “scientific research.” Prior to the 1986 whaling moratorium, roughly 38,000 whales were killed annually (between 1945 and 1986), compared with an average of 1,240 whales killed per year after the moratorium (1987 onwards).


 Our Conversation with Douglas Carlton Abrams

 Listeners may recall that two weeks ago, we talked with Skipper Jo Royle of the Plastiki about her concern for plastic pollution in the seas. And some months back, we talked with Simon Avery, who is a pilot on the Sea Shepherd efforts to harass illegal Japanese whaling.

 Our guest tonight offers insights into those concerns and more. He’s Douglas Carlton Abrams, and he has written a novel called Eye of the Whale. It’s a suspense novel centered on saving a stranded whale in the Sacramento Delta; it’s also research-based and serves as a serious warning not only about the whales, but about human health in an increasingly polluted world.

 We asked Doug to set the scene for us a read from the novel to give readers a sense of the book. He reads from Chapter 2, where the heroine, Elizabth McKay is able to swim with the whales and observe the birth of a humpback whale.

Our Questions for Doug Abrams:

–The Eye of the Whale is what you call “fact-based fiction.” Please tell us what that is and how you came to write a novel about whales and their plight.

–We DON’T want to ask you which parts of the book are “true” and which are “false,” but rather, let’s focus on what you learned as you did your research for the book.

  • You swam with the whales and looked one in the eye. Please tell us about that.

Part of Elizabeth McKay’s work centers on the songs of whales, so before we ask Doug Abrams about that, let’s listen to a short piece from Songs of the Humpback Whale.

  • You did a great deal of research into whale songs and communication, and this plays a major role in the novel. Who are some of the researchers that you talked with and what did you learn?
  • It seems like an unlikely theme for a novel, but this book is about endocrine disruption. What is that, and what did you learn? [Pete Myers, with whom you spoke, also appeared here in Chico last year at the sustainability conference, and we were enlightened his discussion how small quantities of toxic chemicals have effects that have been previously ignored.]
  • In one of the subplots of your novel, activists go to Japan to dramatically protest Japanese whaling practices. Please tell us how that became a part of your book.

–You are an environmentalist as well as a writer. What do you see as the greatest threats to the environment right now? Are threats such as ocean pollution and global warming reversible? or at least controllable to the level that some of the threats you describe can be neutralized?

–Your heroine, Elizabeth McKay, winds up testifying before Congress, and you acknowledge the work of Senator Boxer and others in “trying to address the environmental crises we face.” What did you learn about Congressional efforts to take action?

–We’ve done several programs on international efforts at saving the environment, including the Copenhagen Climate Change conference. Do you think these efforts are likely to make a significant impact? Are the Obama administration’s goals strong enough to make a difference? Do you think our Congress can pass significant climate change legislation?

–A question we often ask on this show: Do you think threats to the environment can be eliminated through:  government mandates?  government incentives?  the good will of people doing the right thing?  humankind being pushed to the edge of the cliff?

–How can our listeners become involved in the issues discussed in Eye of the Whale? Are there some watchdog organizations you can recommend?

What’s your next project?

 We’ve been talking with Douglas Carlton Abrams, author of The Eye of the Whale. It’s published by Atria Books, which is a division of Simon and Schuster. You can learn more about Doug and his work at his website http://www.douglascarltonabrams.com and at simonandschuster.com.

Two Resources for Learning More About Saving the WhalesThe National Resources Defense Council has been fighting efforts to compromise the international whale hunting ban. NRDC also has a broader aim of saving the world’s ocean health, and their web site is a great resource for information on myriad threats to the seas and sea creatures. They also have an excellent action page which makes it easy for you to send your opinions to legislators on a wide range of environmental issues. They’re at nrdc.org, .

 We also encourage you to check out the Save the Whales site, which includes a great deal of basic information on various whales and their nature and habitat, plus action links, additional media resources, and excellent activities for kids. www.savethewhales.org.

Playlist for Ecotopia #99 –The Eye of the Whale

1.  The Whale Song      2:25    Hoagy Carmichael
Hoagy Carmichael: The First Of The Singer-Songwriters
2.  Song Of The Whale – Part One: From Dawn … 8:20    Tangerine
Dream   Underwater Sunlight
3.  Song of the World’s Last Whale      2:39    Pete Seeger   At 89
4.  Solo Whale          9:29    Humpback Whales  Songs of the Humpback Whale
5.  Who Is She / Song For The Whales    5:12    Petra Haden and Woody Jackson  Ten Years
6.  Weave Me the Sunshine       4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary  The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary
7.  Calypso     3:49    John Denver  Earth Songs