Fathoms: The World in the Whale

S. & S. Jul. 2020. 352p. ISBN 9781982120696. $27. NAT HIST
Australian nature writer Giggs bookends her immersive exploration of whales with stories of beached whales, one in Perth and one near Sydney. Exploring varied species of whales, Giggs shares how their anatomy, uniquely suited for their lives as sea-faring mammals, proves lethal when they are on land. The author explains how whales’ vertebrae is so heavy that outside of the water they crush the organs lying below; blubber is so insulating that whales smother and cook on land. Building on her theme of environmental concern, Giggs guides readers from the ravages of 19th-century whaling to modern-day chemical pollutants that accumulate in whales’ blubber, illustrating the interconnectedness of all life and the ways man’s depredations travel from the smallest creatures to this largest of Earth’s animals. Giggs notes that while whaling has declined markedly after crusades against it in the 1980s, other dangers remain, especially man’s heedless consumer culture. One whale found dead near Spain, for example, had swallowed an entire collapsed greenhouse that had blown into the ocean.
VERDICT In lyrical language, Giggs leads readers on a journey through underwater cultures and the place of whales in the chain of life. Recommended for readers interested in nature, ecology, and environmentalism.
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