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The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling

Despite a decades-long international moratorium on commercial whaling, one fleet has continued to hunt and kill whales in the waters surrounding Antarctica. Refusing to let this defiance go unchallenged, the environmental organization Greenpeace began dispatching expeditions to the region in an effort to intercept the whalers and use nonviolent means to stop their lethal practice.

Over the past decade, Kieran Mulvaney led four such expeditions as a campaigner and coordinator. In The Whaling Season, he recounts those voyages in all their drama, disappointments, strain, and elation, giving readers a behind-the-scenes look at the hazards and triumphs of life as an environmental activist on the high seas. The author also explores the larger struggles underlying the expeditions, drawing on the history of commercial whaling and Antarctic exploration, the development of Greenpeace, and broader scientific and political efforts to conserve marine life. He presents a rich portrait of the current struggles and makes an impassioned plea for protection of some of the world’s most spectacular creatures.

For armchair adventurers, polar enthusiasts, and anyone concerned about marine conservation and continued hunting of the world’s whales, The Whaling Season is an engrossing and informative tale of adventure set in one of the Earth’s last great wilderness areas.

Jim Motavalli, SEJournal Winter 2003
The Whaling Season ... is a highly personal account, complete with the author as an occasionally cranky but deeply human narrator ... Mulvaney skillfully weaves scientific information and international whale politics into his story.

Tom Baker, Daily Yomiuri, August 24, 2003:
The central government's official position on commercial whaling, routinely presented in forums such as the International Whaling Commission (IWC), is that is should be "resumed." Greenpeace activist Kieran Mulvaney's position, presented in the subtitle of The Whaling Season, is that it should be "stopped." So before debate can even begin, we have to ask whether commercial whaling is a suspended activity that might be resumed, or an ongoing one that might be stopped.

It is not unusual to see dark red whale steaks displayed on Styrofoam trays in major supermarkets, often with whitish strips of whale bacon nearby. Canned whale meat can be purchased in convenience stores as a late-night snack under several brand names. Restaurants and bars that serve whale meat are hardly rare, and a few even specialize in it.

In light of such facts, denials of commercial whaling's continued existence can most politely be characterized as nonsense.

Score a point for Mulvaney, based on the title of his book alone. But what about the book's content?

Scoring another point, it is highly readable. The prologue, which described the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise stalking the whaler Nisshin Maru through Antarctic ice, reads like something out of a Tom Clancy novel. Even when Mulvaney turns from the immediacy of "cat-and-mouse among the icebergs" to the bigger picture of politics and history, his prose flows along at a quick and easy pace.

Scoring several more points, the book is highly informative, exposing the fallacy of efforts to portray antiwhaling campaigns as a form of Western
cultural imperialism. While open-water whaling dates back to the 17th century in this country, Mulvaney writes, it has even older roots in Europe, and the industry played a bigger role in the cultures and economies of the West than it ever did here. For Western nations to give it up was a real sacrifice, but (with the notable exceptions of Norway and Iceland) it was one they understood the importance of making.

Furthermore, the type of whaling now most commonly practiced--hunting minke whales in the Antarctic--has virtually no roots at all. The region was
inaccessible until historically recent times, and rorquals (a whale family that includes minkes, fins, humpbacks and blues) were uncatchable until the Industrial Revolution. Before the invention of steamships, Mulvaney says, rorquals simply swam too fast for humans to pursue. And unlike oily right
whales and sperm whales, relatively lean rorquals tend to sink when dead, necessitating powerful motorized winches to keep the catch. Finally, he writes, even among rorquals, minkes were considered commercially useless until the 1930s--when their larger cousins had been hunted to near extinction.

It was also not until the 1930s that this country first became involved in Antarctic whaling. The activity was suspended during World War II, Mulvaney writes, only to be restarted on the pragmatic order of U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Occupation. So much for venerable traditions.

Despite the array of whale meat products commercially available, the process of catching and killing the animals is often described as "research." The very existence of a whaling fleet is enough to cast doubt on this notion--even Jacques Cousteau required only a single ship for most of his distinguished career--but Mulvaney goes to the trouble of debunking "research" claims in detail.

An oft stated goal of such research is to determine the extent to which whales, which IWC delegate Masayuki Komatsu famously described as "cockroaches of the sea," have depleted commercial fish stocks. In response, Mulvaney sensibly points out that "by any measure, whale populations today are just a tiny fraction of their size at the beginning of the 20th century...when, despite a larger number of whales eating a greater number of fish, fish populations were much larger."

Mulvaney also notes that rorquals, the predominant type among the 700 whales the government authorized to be killed in 2000, rarely eat fish at all. They subsist largely on plankton and krill.

Prowhaling forces have responded to Greenpeace's exposure efforts with brutality and ridicule. On the missions Mulvaney led to Antarctica to nonviolently interfere with the whale hunt, whalers repeatedly blasted activists with high-pressure fire hoses--not a very nice thing to do to people in small boats on the high seas in subfreezing weather.

After his first mission a decade ago, Mulvaney writes, the Institute of Cetacean Research, a body affiliated with the Fisheries Agency of the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, criticized the activists as goof-offs drinking coffee and flying kites, but Mulvaney explains that the kite
was an unsuccessful attempt to interfere with the harpoon gunners' aim.

More recently, a press release from the Fisheries Agency itself in January last year slammed Greenpeace activists for "touring around the Antarctic drinking beer and baking cookies." While it may well be that whalers are too manly to bake cookies (their loss), it would be surprising if they turned their noses up at beer. More seriously, for a government agency to stoop to silly taunts in defense of genuine "research" is rather telling. (For more press releases detailing the government's point of view, visit the Fisheries Agency Web site at www.jfa.maff.go.jp/whale)

The Whaling Season has a black and white photo section that includes scenes of dead whales being winched aboard a processing ship. If you'd like a closer look at those whales now, you can do your own research in Aisle Three: Canned Goods.

Score a point for the whaling industry.

Publishers' Weekly, May 15 2003:
Science and environmental writer Mulvaney offers a passionate, stirring account of his involvement in Greenpeace's campaign to end commercial whaling ... It's an inspiring story, told honestly and in a non-preachy style ... His important book deserves attention from anyone who cares about the fate of the ocean's greatest creatures.

E: The Environmental Magazine, September/October 2003
Despite common misconceptions, commercial whaling is still alive and well under the guise of "scientific research." Kieran Mulvaney lends a personal touch to the struggle by Greenpeace and others against the ruse. The Whaling Season provides dramatic and engaging accounts of Mulvaney's four expeditions chasing whaling ships in the Antarctic and the twists of his life that delivered him there. An article in BBC Wildlife, too many Jagermeisters and a romantic breakup helped propel this writer and activist into a David Vs. Goliath, non-violent protest through icy waters to protect these intelligent and valued creatures.

Jim Motavalli, The Dragonfly Review, November 2003:
The Whaling Season is a highly personal account of the British-born author’s efforts to stop the slaughter of the world’s cetaceans. (Although commercial whaling was suspended in 1982, Japan, Norway, and now Iceland continue to take hundreds of whales annually under a loophole that allows “scientific” catch.) Mulvaney, who now lives in Alaska, proves a quirky narrator: Were it not for a series of strategic Jägermeisters served to him in an Amsterdam café, he might never have set out on the first of what proved to be four Antarctic voyages.

A cofounder of the Whale Conservation Society, Mulvaney skillfully weaves scientific information and international whale politics into his story, which makes clear that chasing renegade Japanese whaling ships is in no way like a Hollywood movie. But when the action does come, it’s quite cinematic, as Greenpeace crews block harpooners with their Zodiacs and get blasted by water cannons.

Five whaling ships took more than 400 minke whales from Antarctic waters in the 2003 season. The Whaling Season is Mulvaney’s attempt to blast back.

Stephen Fife-Adams, Endangered Species Update, Nov/Dec 2003:
It is hard to believe there is still a call for books like Kieran Mulvaney's The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling. With the populations of many whale species still in danger of total collapse due to numerous environmental pressures, the resumption of legal commercial whaling seems unthinkable. Yet, as Mulvaney points out in his book, there has been a strong effort in recent years on the part of whaling nations like Japan, Norway and Iceland to resume the hunting of minke, sei and other whales. Thus, books such as Mulvaney's are still necessary to bring the issue of whaling to the public's attention. The balance of The Whaling Season, unfortunately, is a hit-or-miss affair. The historical sections provide a solid overview of their subjects and add heft to a book that might otherwise be lacking in that regard. By contrast, the International Whaling Commission chapters too often become a dry recitation of dates and vote tallies. The advantage of a book like The Whaling Season is that there is room enough for both the short and long views, and from both perspectives, Mulvaney succeeds in making his case to the general reader. If in fact, as Mulvaney speculates, "we are witnessing … the last defiant death throes" of an "unmourned and unloved" industry, we have Greenpeace and Mulvaney in part to thank for it. If, instead, we are on the brink of a revival of commercial whaling in our time, a book like The Whaling Season could become an important document in future efforts to bring this ugly chapter in the planet's history to a conclusive end.

Mark Simmonds, Environmental Conservation, 2005

In The Whaling Season , Mulvaney gives us a compelling autobiographical account of the high-profile Greenpeace expeditions to Antarctica in search of the whaling fleets. He is one of the finest writers in the environmental sphere at this time and provides a fascinating and engaging text. Whilst the book is undoubtedly aimed at the popular market, there is much here for those who are interested in the political dynamics of the whaling issue and, indeed, for those generally involved in the environmental movement.

John Passacantando, Executive Director, Greenpeace USA
Looking for the inside scoop on what it's really like to be on a Greenpeace ship battling commercial whalers at the end of the earth? Or how to deal simultaneously with seasickness, brutal cold, deadly icebergs, fog, equipment breakdown and exploding harpoons? A new book entitled The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling, written by former Greenpeacer Kieran Mulvaney, describes all this in detail -- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

For our supporters and the Greenpeace staff, chasing the whalers is a mythological journey -- the stuff that dreams are made of. But for Kieran Mulvaney, the adventure was mythology plus a whole lot more. Sometimes it's pure Ulysses out there, and sometimes it's boredom, claustrophobia and the dream of a simple meal back home. It's also about good old fashioned luck and the determination of a crew that finds a way to defend these great, innocent, intelligent whales against the longest odds.

But be careful with this book. If you are vulnerable to a midlife crisis, The Whaling Season could land you in a cold, dark and wet place instead of a Corvette. Keep it away from your kids too -- unless you want to see them bail out of that nice summer job you landed for them at the local coffee shop.