Monday, July 13, 2009

NY Times must-read about whales

The New York Times' Sunday Magazine published an amazing story about whales this weekend. Titled "Watching Whales Watching Us," the story describes the unusual behavior of gray whales living near Baja. It also discusses the impact of human noise on whales in general, and the growing scientific evidence that whales have more complex brains than humans thought. Perhaps the most moving parts of the article are the ones that detail the author's encounter with a gray whale mother and her calf while on a whale watching expedition. Unlike some whales, the gray whales of Baja seem to enjoy human visitors, approaching the ships with their calves and allowing humans to pet them. It seems they may like giving us the once-over just as much as we like eyeballing them. This is all the more amazing because not too long ago, the whales in that same area were known to attack ships. At the time, gray whales were commercially hunted and were almost driven to extinction by idiotic hunting practices (sometimes mothers, calves, and bulls were all taken). Now that humans have not hunted whales for decades, some of the same whales that escaped death (some of them have visible harpoon scars) seem to have changed their minds about humans.

Though the article is not about Antarctica or Southern Ocean whales, it definitely makes a very persuasive case for considering whales special. Next time someone asks you what would be so terrible about letting whaling countries go about their business without protest, show them this article and see if they still feel that the best way to honor these creatures is to fry them up in a pan.

Bonus: The author of the article and a scientist who studies gray whales are on Fresh Air with Terry Gross today. Listen to it here.

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