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Red Leviathan

The Secret History of Soviet Whaling

A revealing and authoritative history that shows how Soviet whalers secretly helped nearly destroy endangered whale populations, while also contributing to the scientific understanding necessary for these creatures’ salvation.
 
The Soviet Union killed over six hundred thousand whales in the twentieth century, many of them illegally and secretly. That catch helped bring many whale species to near extinction by the 1970s, and the impacts of this loss of life still ripple through today’s oceans. In this new account, based on formerly secret Soviet archives and interviews with ex-whalers, environmental historian Ryan Tucker Jones offers a complete history of the role the Soviet Union played in the whales’ destruction. As other countries—especially the United States, Great Britain, Japan, and Norway—expanded their pursuit of whales to all corners of the globe, Stalin determined that the Soviet Union needed to join the hunt. What followed was a spectacularly prodigious, and often wasteful, destruction of humpback, fin, sei, right, and sperm whales in the Antarctic and the North Pacific, done in knowing violation of the International Whaling Commission’s rules. Cold War intrigue encouraged this destruction, but, as Jones shows, there is a more complex history behind this tragic Soviet experiment. Jones compellingly describes the ultimate scientific irony: today’s cetacean studies benefited from Soviet whaling, as Russian scientists on whaling vessels made key breakthroughs in understanding whale natural history and behavior. And in a final twist, Red Leviathan reveals how the Soviet public began turning against their own country’s whaling industry, working in parallel with Western environmental organizations like Greenpeace to help end industrial whaling—not long before the world’s whales might have disappeared altogether.

304 pages | 30 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Biological Sciences: Conservation, Natural History

History: Environmental History

History of Science

Reviews

“This is a really important story. Jones has set out to reframe much of what we know about twentieth-century environmental history, particularly of the oceans. His archival work is extraordinarily impressive, and the oral history interviews with Russian whalers and marine biologists are, to my knowledge, unique in English-language historical scholarship. But it is Jones’s incorporation of whale science and his own personal vignettes that make this book special. Soviet whaling had the single greatest impact on world whale populations in the postwar period, but no other historian has told its inside story. Red Leviathan is a game-changer.”

Jason M. Colby, University of Victoria, author of "Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean's Greatest Predator"

“American environmentalists are inclined to see the United States’ Cold War opponent as a villain. Telling the story of the Soviet role in modern whaling, Jones complicates this perspective by acknowledging the Soviets’ disproportionate impact while also looking beyond it. He illuminates the contradictions and tensions among different players within the Soviet whaling industry—whalers, the whale scientists who worked with them, and other Russians not directly involved in but still impacted by and shaping the demands of the industry. From the first attempts at whaling in Peter’s Russia to the protest era and pushback against whaling by Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherds, Red Leviathan combines thorough research and great storytelling to fill a necessary gap in the history of global whaling.”

Jakobina K. Arch, Whitman College, author of "Bringing Whales Ashore: Oceans and the Environment of Early Modern Japan"

Table of Contents

Preface
1 Russia’s Whale Problem
2 The Whales of Distant Seas
3 A Revolution in Whaling
4 North Pacific Numbers
5 War and Glory in the Antarctic
6 Aleksei Solyanik and the End of Area V
7 The Kollektiv and the Long Ruble
8 The Cetacean Genocide
9 Scientists Locate Their Prey
10 Whales in the Home
11 A Whale Is Not a Fish: Back to the North Pacific
12 Greenpeace and the View from the Dal’nii Vostok
Conclusion
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Notes
Index
 

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