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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

The Living on Earth Almanac

Air Date: Week of

Facts about... the whale of a novel Moby Dick.


CURWOOD: One hundred and forty five years ago one of the seminal works of American fiction, Herman Melville's Moby Dick, was published. The story of Captain Ahab's obsession with a great white sperm whale, Moby Dick is also a repository of knowledge about these leviathans of the deep. In Melville's time there were many thousands of sperm whales. The creatures were valued for both their oil and the ambergris used to manufacture perfumes. Sperm whales were first protected in 1937 by the League of Nations. The group's treaty placed quotas on the number of females that could be captured. But as more and more males were taken, reproduction declined precipitously. When the hunting of all whales was banned a decade ago, sperm whale numbers began to climb. As for Melville, for us modern readers Moby Dick marked his high water mark as a writer, but when Melville died 40 years after the publication of Moby Dick he was all but forgotten by the public. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth almanac.



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