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Good Reads  Mammals  Marine Mammals  Whales & Dolphins (Cetacea)

We Are All Whalers The Plight of Whales and Our Responsibility

By: Michael J Moore(Author)
213 pages, 33 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
We Are All Whalers sees marine scientist Michael J. Moore argue that, where the decline of whales is concerned, there are no innocent bystanders.
We Are All Whalers
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  • We Are All Whalers ISBN: 9780226823997 Paperback Aug 2022 In stock
  • We Are All Whalers ISBN: 9780226803043 Hardback Oct 2021 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 6 days
Selected version: £14.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

The image most of us have of whalers includes harpoons and intentional trauma. Yet eating commercially caught seafood leads to whales ' entanglement and slow death in rope and nets, and the global shipping routes that bring us readily available goods often lead to death by collision. We – all of us – are whalers, marine scientist and veterinarian Michael J. Moore contends. But we do not have to be.

Drawing on over forty years of fieldwork with humpback, pilot, fin, and in particular, North Atlantic right whales – a species whose population has declined more than twenty percent since 2017 – Moore takes us with him as he performs whale necropsies on animals stranded on beaches, in his independent research alongside whalers using explosive harpoons, and as he tracks injured whales to deliver sedatives. The whales' plight is a complex, confounding, and disturbing one. We learn of existing but poorly enforced conservation laws and of perennial (and often failed) efforts to balance the push for fisheries profit versus the protection of endangered species caught by accident.

But despite these challenges, Moore's tale is an optimistic one. He shows us how technologies for rope-less fishing and the acoustic tracking of whale migrations make a dramatic difference. And he looks ahead with hope as our growing understanding of these extraordinary creatures fuels an ever-stronger drive for change.



1 Young Man, There Are No Whales Left
2 The First Whale I Had Ever Seen
3 Whaling with Intent
4 The Bowhead Is More than Food
5 Whaling by Accident
6 Treating Whales
7 Our Skinny Friend
8 Taking the Long View: Why Can’t We Let Right Whales Die of Old Age?

Postscript 1: Getting Really Cold
Postscript 2: A Lonely Tunnel with No Light at the End

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Thought-provoking and disturbing
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 11 Jul 2023 Written for Paperback

    We Are All Whalers is veterinary scientist Michael J. Moore's account of a life spent studying different whale species and what is killing them. He argues that anyone participating in our global economy has blood on their hands, often without realising it. Readers are warned that this book does not avoid graphic details. His research has ultimately drawn him to the problems of whales getting entangled in fishing gear and being struck by ships. However, it is the path that took him there, through both industrial and subsistence whaling, that might leave some readers more upset.

    Despite Moore's preface claiming this book is not a memoir, my conclusion is that this is most assuredly a good example of a research memoir, taking the reader chronologically through his academic career. Later in life, Moore has become irresistibly drawn to the problem of entanglement and collisions which he describes in the second half of this book. As it is probably the most straightforward part to discuss, I will start there.

    Much of Moore's work has focused on North Atlantic right whales. These large whales are filter-feeders that were almost driven to extinction by industrial whaling, with approximately 100 individuals remaining by the 1950s when the hunt was no longer considered profitable. Since then, the species has slowly recovered but is facing new threats.

    The North Atlantic sees intense shipping traffic, leading to frequent collisions that result in death, sublethal blunt-force trauma, and ghastly propeller cuts. More harrowing still is the gear used by the fisheries industry, both gill nets for fish and ropes linking together surface buoys and bottom traps for lobsters and crabs. Moore has been intensively involved in documenting the impact of both, often while standing knee-deep in beached whale carcasses during necropsies to determine their cause of death. These have revealed the intense agony whales suffer over many months as entangled gear starts to constrict and cut into skin, blubber, muscle, and ultimately bone while the animals slowly lose weight, trying to heal wounds that will not close. This forms the starting point for a series of daring at-sea experiments to measure weight loss and body condition using an ultrasound probe, attach recorders that measure the impact of entangled gear on swimming performance, and develop a system to administer sedatives to allow rescue workers to approach whales and cut loose nets and ropes.

    When health complications leave Moore unable to continue fieldwork, he moves into fisheries politics to try and enact changes to gear design. One of the most galling details of this book is that workable alternatives to ropes exist. Scientists have used acoustically triggered release mechanisms for underwater gear for decades. These could be adapted for use with traps and gill nets, but a combination of costs and entrenched attitudes has prevented the industry from adopting this. Other changes to gear design have been proposed and some have been tested, but the problem persists. More hopeful is that speed restrictions and rerouting of shipping lanes have shown promising reductions in collisions with whales.

    Moore's account is intensely candid. He makes no secret of his insecurities in designing and trialling solutions nobody has ever considered before. The cognitive dissonance between witnessing suffering whales and dispassionately reporting these findings in the scientific literature (this book is a valuable counterpoint to The Urban Whale, showing the personal stories behind such research). The unpredictabilities that come with animals responding to climate change such as whales moving into new areas in pursuit of prey, resulting in "a slow, endless, and incredibly frustrating process of trying to stay ahead of a moving target" (p. 180). And, of course, the endless battle between the conservation lobby and the fishing industry with the latter usually winning out. The anguish is dripping off the pages in places and I could not help but wonder about the toll this work has taken on his mental health.

    Moore is also outspoken in concluding, as the title implies, that our "consumer culture is the basis for this crisis" (p. 56). Our demand for seafood and cheap products shipped across the world is creating this problem. However, some readers might be surprised by his admission that he has "no angst toward the fishing industry. It was simply doing what I, as one of many, many seafood consumers, demanded" (p. 121). Shifting responsibility from the industry to consumers has been a favourite tactic of fossil fuel companies. Have his collaborations with the industry blindsided him to this? I furthermore think that Moore contradicts himself somewhat by hoping for a world in which fisheries and whales can sustainably coexist when he elsewhere flags up that commercial profit motive ruins everything. However, what shape a wholesale reform of our society and economy should take is, understandably, a topic too big for Moore and well beyond the scope of this book, though he seems to wrestle with it in the back of his mind.

    What might confuse and upset readers more is the first half of this book, charting the early steps in his research career. This saw him study both traditional whale hunting by the Iñupiaq of Alaska and the use of explosive harpoons, acting as a scientific observer on Icelandic whaling ships. This combination has given him a unique perspective, in hindsight serving as "the positive control of an experiment that has occupied me for much of the past thirty-five years: a test of how well, versus how badly, humans can kill whales" (p. 37). There are passages here that might shock some readers. To me, some of them verged into "this probably sounded good in your head" territory. I was left feeling conflicted. Having experienced all this first-hand has given him insights that most people cannot truly fathom and will likely criticize or dismiss; and to work through these experiences in full view of the reader is nothing less than brave. However, have they made him lose sight of the bigger picture? Some readers might question why he does not condemn industrial whaling more clearly. One obvious response is that public awareness of, and opposition to, industrial whaling has already been achieved. Meanwhile, the problems of gear entanglement and ship strikes still fly under most people's radar, which is where the second half of the book shines.

    Overall then, We Are All Whalers is an intensely personal, warts-and-all account that does not avoid the moral grey areas and internal struggles this research brings to one man's mind. This is certainly one of the more thought-provoking and disturbing books I have read in a while. Anything less would not have done this topic justice.
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Michael J. Moore is a veterinary scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He lives in Marion, MA.

By: Michael J Moore(Author)
213 pages, 33 b/w photos and b/w illustrations
We Are All Whalers sees marine scientist Michael J. Moore argue that, where the decline of whales is concerned, there are no innocent bystanders.
Media reviews

"Moore's decades in the field were accompanied by a growing sense of urgency about one species in particular, the North Atlantic right whale. His new book, We Are All Whalers, looks back at his own life and forward to the tenuous future of these imperiled behemoths. He spent his career learning how to save right whales on an individual basis, with some success. 'But, ' he writes, 'I also knew that prophylaxis had to be the ultimate goal of any veterinarian.' To save an entire species, Moore warns, we need a lot more hands on deck."
Bluedot Living

"After the world spent more than two centuries slaughtering whales to the point of near-extinction, international commercial whaling was finally banned in 1986. But in this highly persuasive book, the marine scientist Moore demonstrates that many of the gains are being undone by a combination of commercial fishing (in which whales are strangled with ropes and nets) and shipping (whales are often hit by passing cargo ships, and their songs are drowned out by the incessant drum of engines). The North Atlantic right whale's population, for instance, has declined more than 20% since 2017. It's not all doom and gloom, though: Moore (not to be confused with the filmmaker of the same name) furnishes solutions while sounding the alarm."
Bloomberg, Six Best Books This Fall

"Moore, a marine scientist and veterinarian, makes a compelling argument that whales' survival depends on each of us – not just on those who venture out on ships, hunting whales for meat and blubber. It's sobering to grapple with the ways we might unwittingly contribute to the mammals' demise, like by eating commercially caught seafood. But Moore also offers reason to be hopeful, including new technologies for ropeless fishing."
Washington Post, 15 Books to Read This Fall

"In [...] We Are All Whalers: The Plight of Whales and Our Responsibility, Moore writes that our choices about the food and other products we buy can make a difference in what happens to whales. The extension of that argument is that society as a whole could – and should – provide more support for fishers to move to ropeless gear."
Monga Bay

"A fascinating memoir by a marine biologist-veterinarian who has devoted his entire life to developing methods for saving wild whales in distress, especially critically endangered North Atlantic right whales."

"A scientific memoir of over thirty years of research, a great tale of the sea, and a call to arms."

"The threat to whales goes beyond the conventional images of harpooning ships, according to this moving and impassioned debut from veterinarian and marine scientist Moore [...] . Moore injects his descriptions of the dire situation with a personal angle, sharing stories about how he came to study and care passionately about whales, creatures with awe-inspiring intelligence and social skills but whose population is threatened by humanity [...] Technology offers a ray of hope – in his final chapter, Moore describes how using ropeless nets for commercial fishing and studying whale population movements can prevent accidental collisions and lessen the death toll. This empowering call to action stuns."
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"Whale hunters aren't the only threats to the world's largest mammal, argues marine scientist Moore in this treatise on protecting the animals and helping them thrive."
Publishers Weekly, Fall 2021 Announcements: Science

"A truly compelling, captivating, and in places heart-wrenching story of one scientist's journey caring for a highly endangered species. The very predicament of North Atlantic right whales is our fault, and their recovery is also our responsibility, as we are all consumers and hence all culpable in the environmental costs of fish products and goods and services transported at sea. Coexistence with whales is possible, and Moore's book lays the foundation."
– Moira Brown, Canadian Whale Institute

"An affecting book, authored by a man whose life has circled the great whales, and whose sense of concern and care for these animals has only deepened over time. Moore challenges us to confront how implicated we all are in the ongoing destruction of sea life – and leaves the reader with indelible images of the suffering of countless magnificent animals fettered, gagged, slashed, and lost in the fatal obstacle course we have made of their domain."
– D. Graham Burnett, author of The Sounding of the Whale: Science and Cetaceans in the Twentieth Century

"Moore goes where few scientists are comfortable to go, and where most scientists take deliberate steps to avoid [...] His forty-three years of study, mostly focused on marine mammals, have exposed him to the animal pain and suffering side of what to many has been a mathematical exercise as North Atlantic right whale numbers freefall towards extinction – as they are beaten down by collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing gear, and climate change."
Cape Cod Times

"Moore paints a comprehensive picture of the challenges facing right whales, emphasizing the role that everyone plays in their conservation [...] passionate and philosophical [...] "
Whales Online

"Most of us know that whales are in danger but have only a vague understanding of why. Moore's perspective from personal experience is unique, and this clear book should be read by the conservation community, scientists, and anyone interested in nature and human-whale interactions."
– Jane Maienschein, Arizona State University and the Marine Biological Laboratory

"Veterinarian Moore knows right whales inside and out, literally. Working chest deep in the guts of dead right whales, he sees, better than anyone, what's killing them. It's us. Moore describes how, demonstrating honestly, clearly, and compassionately the consequences of our cruelty, if inadvertent, toward a sentient animal."
– Deborah Cramer, author of The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, an Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey

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