Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book review: How the US Navy Is Killing the World's Whales

reviewed by Lindsay Abrams

Author Joshua Horvitz on the epic showdown between marine life and national security

You never truly win a conservation battle,” says Joshua Horvitz. The best you can do is “win the right to fight another day.” That’s certainly true of the 20-year battle between conservationists and the U.S. Navy, over the military’s use of sonar and the deadly effect its equipment has on the oceans’ whales.

It was, in fact, just two conservationists: Ken Balcomb, a whale researcher and himself a Navy veteran, and Joel Reynolds, an environmental lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, who worked to link Navy training exercises to the mass strandings of whales on nearby coastlines — and who took the battle all the way to the Supreme Court. The stakes — the existence of a majestic species versus national security — were massive, passions were high and each small, incremental victory came only with great personal sacrifice. It was, in other words, quite the story — one that took Horvitz nearly seven years to tell.

War of the Whales,” his resulting book, depicts not just the epic story of this ongoing fight, but of the sincere, often under-appreciated dedication required of those who choose to take on such battles, and the ways in which such dedication can ultimately pay off. That Balcomb and Reynolds lost their Supreme Court case does little to undermine the progress they made in protecting not just whales, but all marine life, Horvitz argues — and makes it all the more important that the effort continue today. Salon spoke with Horvitz about what he calls “a story of love and obsession gone bad” on the part of the Navy, and about what Balcomb and Reynolds’ response can teach us about the other high-stakes battles of our time. Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows:

What drew you into this story?
I’m an author as well as a book packager, and like anyone else who works in long-form storytelling, I’m always looking for a great untold story. I stumbled on this really as a headline: “Whales versus Navy,” about the legal case between the NRDC and the U.S. Navy. It was a long-running lawsuit, and it read sort of like a divorce headline, and as I dug deeper into the story I realized it really was in some ways a story of love and obsession gone bad — the Navy’s own obsession with whales and dolphins went back to the beginnings of the Cold War... read more: