Whales and Nations

Environmental Diplomacy on the High Seas

Kurkpatrick Dorsey
Foreword by William Cronon

  • Published: 2014. Paperback March 2016
  • Subject Listing: History / Environmental History; Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 392 pp., 25 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World Rights
  • 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, 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.

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

"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

"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, from the foreword

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

"Written with elegant prose and a wry wit, the book illuminates the many twists and turns of global whaling regulation. . . This title is an excellent resource for those desiring detailed insight."

"This interesting and well researched [book] . . . sheds new light on how the International Whaling Commission developed, and on how it struggled."
-Bjorn Basberg, International Journal of Maritime History

"I am delighted that a book like Whales and Nations exists and that Kurkpatrick Dorsey has written it. He offers us a detailed history of the regulation of whaling from the pre-World War I era up to the present. . . . He is certainly one of the best writers of diplomatic history around."
-Karen Oslund, Environmental History

"Dorsey negotiates a daunting set of complex political, scientific, social, and cultural relationships with enough detail to sustain his points yet still have the narrative move along without too many distractions. . . . Sets a new standard for environmental historians by looking at the diplomatic interactions that tried-and failed-to conserve whale populations."
-Carmel Finley, Journal of American History

"Dorsey's prose is careful and meticulous, and facilitates a nuanced understanding of whaling politics . . . effectively narrat[ing] the history and background of whale diplomacy in a way that should appeal to environmental historians, environmental policy researchers, diplomacy scholars, students, and even active diplomats and policymakers who are concerned with the health of the ocean and global environmental problems."
-Chie Sakakibara, Journal of Historical Geography

"Whales and Nations is a dazzling accomplishment."
-Miles A. Powell, Environment and History