Living in waters adjacent to Anchorage, Alaska, the beluga whales of Cook Inlet are an isolated and genetically distinct population. Thought to number more than 1000 in the early 1990s, a sharp population decline has brought them near extinction. Original in approach and incisive in its questions, Beluga Days explores how conservation laws, management policies, and human behaviors have affected the shrinking beluga population. From hunters, regulators, environmentalists, researchers, and businesspeople to whale enthusiasts, Lord encounters an ongoing debate wrestling with the immediate need to protect the whales, as well as a respect for the centuries-old tradition of Native subsistence hunting. Beyond its compelling characters and particulars, Lord's story offers readers a deeper understanding of the often uncomfortable, often rewarding, juxtaposition of humans and the natural world.
In her newest, Lord (Green Alaska) pens the trials of the beluga whales-mysterious, graceful creatures in decline everywhere, especially in Cook Inlet, Alaska, where she and her husband fish. She goes on an odyssey, joining conferences that bring together Native hunters with researchers, spending time with marine mammal curators and ecotoxicologists to find out what might be behind the whales' decline and to understand the complex interrelationship between human and animal. The belugas in Cook Inlet are genetically isolated, not migrating as others do. She spots a pod swimming like "white wheels turning," an apt metaphor for Lord's own meditative writing style. Later she finds that belugas, "sophisticated at echolocation," are able in captivity to imitate the sounds of their tanks with "creaks like doors opening on rusty hinges and high-pitched electronic wheezes." She ably narrates the history of beluga and whale hunting, recounting the change from early days of trophy hunting (with souvenir bottles of whale oil) to today's subsistence hunting in Tyonek by the Dena'ina Natives. With skillful writing and respect for all her subjects, Lord presents some of the agonizing scientific and cultural dilemmas of saving these animals. For example, Dena'ina believe that use of the whales is part of a cycle: "If a plant were harvested for food and its unused parts respectfully returned to earth, the old Dena'ina believed, the plant would grow in greater numbers. But if the plant were not used, its numbers would diminish." Lord ends with a powerful though measured call for the human species to take heed of the beluga, as one of nature's great teachers. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A resident of Cook Inlet on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, Lord (Green Alaska: Dreams from the Far Coast) delights in observing beluga whales swimming past her beach. White and relatively small, with upturned mouths that "smile," these animals are known for the wide variety of sounds that they make to navigate and communicate among themselves. Their declining numbers in recent years drove the author to investigate. A nature lover and keen observer akin to Alexandra Morton (Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us), Lord interviewed and boated with scientists, National Marine Fisheries Service naturalists, environmental activists, and native Alaskan hunters. An anecdotal rather than scientific work, this book will serve to raise readers' consciousness of the deleterious effects of industrial pollution, human population growth, fishing nets, boat traffic, whale-watching boats, and jet skis on the habitat of Cook Inlet belugas. Several maps and 12 pages of bibliographic notes are provided. Suitable for public libraries where Lord's other books have been well received, or where there is interest.-Judith B. Barnett, Univ. of Rhode Island Lib., Kingston Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.