Whales and Nations

Environmental Diplomacy on the High Seas

Kurkpatrick Dorsey
Foreword by William Cronon

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  • $34.95s hardcover (9780295993119) Add to Cart
  • Published: January 2014
  • Subject Listing: Environmental History
  • Bibliographic information: 392 pp., 25 illus., appendix, notes, bibliog., index, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World
  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Contents

Before commercial whaling was outlawed in the 1980s, diplomats, scientists, bureaucrats, environmentalists, and sometimes even whalers themselves had attempted to create an international regulatory framework that would allow for a sustainable whaling industry. In Whales and Nations, Kurkpatrick Dorsey tells the story of the international negotiation, scientific research, and industrial development behind these efforts - and their ultimate failure.

Whales and Nations begins in the early twentieth century, when new technology revived the fading whaling industry and made whale hunting possible on an unprecedented scale. By the 1920s, declining whale populations prompted efforts to develop “rational” - what today would be called sustainable - whaling practices. But even though almost everyone involved with commercial whaling knew that the industry was on an unsustainable path, Dorsey argues that powerful economic, political, and scientific forces made failure nearly inevitable.

Based on a deep engagement with diplomatic history, Whales and Nations provides a unique perspective on the challenges facing international conservation projects. This history has profound implications for today’s pressing questions of global environmental cooperation and sustainability.

Kurkpatrick Dorsey is associate professor of history at the University of New Hampshire.

"Dorsey provides a nuanced history of the environmental diplomacy of whaling by tracing twentieth-century developments in the ideas of sustainability, the reality of national sovereignty, and our understanding of the biology of whales. He explains much of what has happened, which is important for explaining not only earlier whaling but also for addressing ongoing management of other high seas natural resources." -Tim Smith, author of Scaling Fisheries

“This important book is essential for understanding the formation of the first global environmental agreements. It is valuable both as an argument about the failures of sustainability and as an authoritative guide to the people and issues behind the rise of global environmental awareness in the twentieth century.” - Jacob Darwin Hamblin, author of Arming Mother Nature

"Kurkpatrick Dorsey is a widely respected and cited authority in the increasingly important field of environmental history. Whales and Nations provides the definitive account of how whaling finally climaxed in various 20th-century diplomatic flash-points, and in doing so the book scores a trifecta: it traces the rising problem of whaling that was considered nothing less than critical for the food supply of some countries; it superbly and clearly analyzes the intersection of global science and the various national politics that shaped the crises; and it does all this in a well-written narrative that takes the reader from Norway to the United States, to Japan, to Australia and New Zealand,as well as points in between. Dorsey accomplishes this, notably, after having done superb and at times path-breaking research in the government archives of many of the nations whose policies he dissects. This is the essential starting place for understanding a highly delicate diplomatic issue that has long and necessarily been one of our foremost environmental concerns." –Walter LaFeber, Andrew and James Tisch University Professor Emeritus, Cornell University

“Whales and Nations offers a fresh and timely look at the intersection of the twentieth-century whaling industry, international diplomacy, and science and is an important contribution to a topic that loomed very large in the environmental movement at a critical point in its development. It’s also a great read.” - Helen M. Rozwadowski, University of Connecticut, Avery Point

"The international politics of whaling underwent seismic shifts over the course of the twentieth century, reflecting complex changes in attitudes toward marine mammals and environmental protection worldwide. This important story has never been better told than in Kurkpatrick Dorsey's new book, which is likely to be the standard work on this subject for a long time to come." - William Cronon

Watch the trailer:
Foreword by William Cronon
1. A Global Industry and Global Challenges
2. The Pelagic and the Political
3. World War and the World’s Whales
4. Cheaters Sometimes Prosper
5. Melting Down and Muddling Through
6. Save the Whales (for Later)
7. The End of Commercial Whaling
Appendix: Whaling Data, 1904–1965