Interviewed for Eleftherotipia—One of the Highest Selling Greek Newspapers

Posted by: dcabrams in Eye of the Whale

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With my book coming out in the Greek edition, Giannis Triantafillou, a journalist for Eleftherotipia, one of the highest selling greek newspapers, asked me for an interview.  It's been such a wonderful journey to connect with people all around the world about this project.  The interview is below:

1) Why and how did you decide to write a book with this subject?  

I write my novels because I have a question to which I desperately need to know the answer.  One cold winter day I was sitting with my twin daughters by the fireplace when we heard about the whale swimming up the Thames.  We were hearing about multiple whales that were "going astray."  A friend who is a scientist was visiting who was telling me about a new threat to our children, and I asked myself the question that launched the novel: could there be a connection between what was happening on land and what was happening in the sea.  I had no idea then how true profound the connection would be.  I also wanted to know whether we could save ourselves and was their something in the human heart stronger than ignorance, fear, and greed.  I got my answer--from the scientists I worked with on the novel--there is something stronger than these and it is our greatest hope.

2) Have you ever heard the whale's song? Is it a song of communication, a song that expresses feelings etc? 

I have had the joy and privilege of swimming with whales and recording their song and behavior.  I worked with many of the world's leading marine biologists and whale experts on the novel.  There are many theories about the meaning of the song, but it certainly can communicate or express feeling.  They may even have different kinds of songs.  We do know that they are structured like our songs and evolve over time, as male singers sing together and improvise changes.  While I was working on the novel they also discovered social sounds--the words that are used for communication--in the songs.  
3) Is the whale a creature of high intelligence?

We don't know how intelligent whales are but we do know that they have spindle cell neurons, which are the cells in humans that allow for culture and language, and we are pretty sure that they have both of these as well.
4) Which level has todays whale fishing reached ( and the one of other sea species )? Why and where does it lead mathematically?

Thanks to the ban on commercial whaling, many whale populations have been coming back but far below their historical numbers, and still countries like Japan, Norway, and Iceland take thousands of fish, often under supposed research.  Yet, the meat ends up in sushi restaurants in Tokyo.  Now the Japanese and their supporters are trying to turn over the ban on commercial whaling.  The struggle to save the whales is not over yet.  They also face many other dangers.  Pollution is the newest and most deadly harpoon, but it is a danger that attacks humans as well as whales.

5) Yesterday a whale almost attacked a ship.  Which is your comment? Is it possible that one day the sea creatures will 'return' to humans their unacceptable behaviour? 

I think it was probably very unlikely that the whale attacked the boat.  The boat may have simply gotten in the way of a whale breaching, which is part of its normal behavior.  It is true that like any animal, including humans, different individuals have different temperaments, so some may be more aggressive than others.  When I was in the water with the whales, a 50,000 pound male escort whale came over to look at me eyeball-to-eyeball, and then raised his enormous pectoral fin gently over my body to avoid hurting me.  Down here in Mexico, where I am at the moment, we see grey whales that would often fight back when they were being slaughtered bring their babies up to introduce them to humans and let us touch them.  These whales live a very long time, so some may have seen the whaling, and may have now concluded that we are safe.  
6) Was Melville's "Moby Dick" an inspiration for you and in what way?

Of course Moby Dick is a great classic, and was an inspiration in many ways, especially in his Melville's skillful rendering of villains--villains are very important because a hero is only as strong as the forces of opposition he or she faces.  In this novel, however, the whale is not the villain.  "Eco-thrillers"--stories about humans versus nature are as old as the Greek myths and the human imagination itself.  While in the past these stories primarily showed humanity was at the mercy of nature, today our stories remind us that increasingly nature is at the mercy of humanity.

7) Can you comment about the ecological catastrophy because of BP's careless actions?

I will be giving a talk shortly with the man who was responsible for cleaning up the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, another great environmental catastrophe, and he has been very active in the Gulf tragedy.  The important thing to keep in mind is that the Deepwater rig was not some out-of-date equipment.  It was the cutting edge of our technology.  This is a terrible example of spills that happen all around the world.  What we must remember is that whether the spill is in the Gulf or the North Sea or the Mediterranean, there is only One Ocean.  All water on the planet is connected, and we risk destroying this water with the petrochemical civilization we have created.  We must find alternatives, and we can.
8) Do you share the view that in the near future it could be the ecological problems that will 'throw' or 'rise' governments in most of the countries?  

I think Europe is already beginning to see how much people care about the earth that is our home.  I do believe that as people realize and start to experience the dangers personally and societally, they will demand that their politicians face the problems, or lose their power.  We are not talking about the environment, we are talking about our oikos--our home.  If we love our homes, our children, we must realize that all life is connected and protect it.