Dolpins and Whales
In the novel Dolpins and Whales, author John van de Mheten presents an intriguing portrait of the early whaling culture in the Southern Ocean around Australia. He depicts this culture as a diverse and complex group, one that could not be characterized by a single, central trait. It is this, in fact, that gives van de Mheten’s book such an engaging and detailed style, because each character is given a unique voice and a unique view of the whaling experience. The book is also rich in illustrations, a mixture of drawings of the whale and other sea creatures, as well as paintings of whales and their related objects.
It was on a whaling expedition off the South Australian coast that Dolpins found the first genuine specimen of sperm whales. Though there were reports of whales in other areas of the Southern Ocean before he discovered them, van de Mheten provides the first account and his account brings a new light to this otherwise largely unknown people and their life and death customs. Though sperm whales are the first species of whale known to be in coastal waters, it was Dolpins who recorded their presence and provided the first account of their life. Also contributing to the volume of knowledge about whales is Anne Bancroft’s book The Whale in the Sea, which is largely responsible for popularizing the idea of the whales to European readers.
Whales are very different from their blue-skinned, baleen-clad cousins. Like all large fish, they have evolved over thousands of years to serve a variety of purposes. They are not hunters but rather scavengers, picking up dead fish and dead birds to help them survive the cold winters. Their ability to sense the body odor of approaching predators has made them the most effective alarm systems on land and under water. And they are not quite as fast as we think; they can cover long distances fairly quickly.
One of the great things about the whales is that, though they are highly specialized animals, they appear to have developed characteristics of both fish and land animals. For example, they have gills, just like fish but their bodies are much longer than those of a walrus. The snout, or nose, of a whale is more closely related to that of a cat’s, and their lips do look like that of a parrot’s. They have also got hair on certain parts of their bodies, rather than hair on their face like a cat.
In the early days, when boats first began to roam the oceans, whales were seen as threats to sailors, since they could attack and bully smaller ships. In actuality, they served a useful role since, with their great size and loud sounds, they were great swimmers and could move along the top of the ocean with ease. In addition, whales helped with the capture of badgers, which were dangerous animals at the time. And with their great size, they blocked out low flying planes and other air threats.
Of course, over the years, whales have come to symbolize cruelty to animals, since they are often killed or injured for their oil. Nevertheless, whales are unique in many respects. They are the largest creatures on Earth, and even though they are not nearly as powerful as other creatures, their size demonstrates their importance to the planet. Also, when it comes to sex, only males have the penis that is needed for catching prey. Also, the male whale has the ability to take on a mate multiple times, to keep up mating seasons and allow mothers to nurse their young.