Title: Beluga Days
Author: Nancy Lord
Rating Out of 5: 4 (Really good read!)
My Bookshelves: The Coast, Conservation, Non-fiction, Oceans
Dates read: 25th February – 20th April 2019
Publisher: The Mountaineers Books
5th sentence, 74th page: We headed for the bay, about ten miles from Anchorage, and found the whales, white backs rising, then disappearing.
Living in the waters adjacent to the city of anchorage, the beluga whales of Cook Inlet, Alaska, once seemed countless. But after sharp declines, this isolated and genetically distinct population is now endangered.
Beluga Days brings to life coastal Alaska and the complex relationships that coalesce in a mad theater around the beluga whale crisis. In the company of regulators, environmentalists, researchers, businesspeople, whale lovers, and hunters, Nancy Lord explore the challenges of protecting whales and habitat while respecting Alaska Native traditions.
First published in 2004, Lord’s timeless story is part personal journey and part inquiry into the processes of science and politics. Today, the Cook Inlet beluga population has begun a slow recovery, assisted by the protection of the Endangered Species Act and increased public awareness.
It took me a little while to get through this novel. Not because it wasn’t incredibly interesting and fun, but because it is a great, easy read. You can read a chapter, put it down, and then pick it up a week or two later. There is so much information in this novel that my head is still reeling from it hours after I have turned the last page.
Most of the books I read around conservation are about grass roots efforts to save an animal, species or landscape. This was a little more formal in the outlook. Where many of these journeys are an incredibly personal anecdote that is incredibly difficult to put down, this was filled with information about the bureaucracy, politics and many different peoples who are directly involved in the lives and livelihoods of the Cook Inlet Belugas.
I know next to nothing about Belugas. They’re not a species of whale that happens to be anywhere near Australia. And I honestly don’t read many books about marine animals – my area of obsession tends towards the terrestrial animals. So not only was I finding out amazing amounts of information about this cutely funny looking mammal, but I was also finding out a lot of information about the ecosystem in which they live and the society which surrounds its shores. One of the parts I loved about this book was that it investigates all of the different stakeholders in the health and safety of the Cook Inlet Belugas. This starts with Lord discussing her own insight into these whales and her own experiences in finding out more and more about their endangered status. Then she starts to delve into the scientific practices of research and understanding. Following this, the politics and requirements of the legislation in protection are investigated. And, finally, to round everything off beautifully, the needs and wants of Native Americans are talked about. By discussing every single angle of the debate, Lord is able to provide a uniquely diverse and well thought out discussion of just what the Cook Inlet Belugas are facing, and just how they might be saved.
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