The Wake of the Whale
A Lecture on Hunter Societies in the Caribbean and North Atlantic
Despite declining stocks worldwide and increasing health risks, artisanal whaling remains a cultural practice tied to nature’s rhythms. The Wake of the Whale presents the art, history, and challenge of whaling in the Caribbean and North Atlantic, based on a decade of award-winning fieldwork.
Sightings of pilot whales in the frigid Nordic waters have drawn residents of the Faroe Islands to their boats and beaches for nearly a thousand years. Down in the tropics, around the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, artisanal whaling is a younger trade, shaped by the legacies of slavery and colonialism but no less important to the local population. Interestingly, the Caribbean whalers of today share a direct connection with the American whalers of the Moby-Dick era. Whalers from New York and New England frequently took local Caribbean men aboard as deckhands during their whaling voyages in the Caribbean. After the whaling was done, the local men were returned to their home islands having learned a valuable new skill. Some of these men went on to establish local whaling operations, one of which still exists today as the Vincentian whaling operation that this book discusses. Each culture, Russell Fielding shows, has developed a distinct approach to whaling that preserves key traditions while adapting to threats of scarcity, the requirements of regulation, and a growing awareness of the humane treatment of animals.
Yet these strategies struggle to account for the risks of regularly eating meat contaminated with methylmercury and other environmental pollutants introduced from abroad. Fielding considers how these and other factors may change whaling cultures forever, perhaps even bringing an end to this way of life.
A rare mix of scientific and social insight, The Wake of the Whale raises compelling questions about the place of cultural traditions in the contemporary world and the sacrifices we must make for sustainability.
Russell Fielding is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at The University of the South. A Fulbright scholar, he has been awarded fellowships from the Nansen Fund, the Faroese Research Council, the University of Montana Global Leadership Initiative, and the American Geographical Society and has been interviewed by National Geographic, PBS, and 18 Degrees North. He served as a consultant on two documentary films, The Archipelago, by Benjamin Huguet, and Faroe Islands: Message from the Sea, by PBS Frontline/World. Since 2005 Fielding has been studying artisanal whaling traditions throughout the Atlantic, with field sites in the Faroe Islands, Newfoundland, and St. Vincent.