In 2007, Sierra Club member Joshua Horwitz traveled with his 13-year-old daughter Julia to one of the last pristine whale lagoons on the Pacific coast of Baja, Mexico. The experience so moved the Washington, D.C.-based writer that for the next seven years he immersed himself in what he describes as a "fascinating and bottomless" study of whales and their struggle for survival.
The result is War of the Whales, which goes on sale today, published by Simon & Schuster. War of the Whales is a true story of how a whale researcher and an environmental lawyer took on the world's most powerful navy after they both stumbled on evidence linking sonar exercises to mass strandings of whales. Their fight went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Horwitz says that prior to seeing whales in the wild in Baja, "what I knew about whales was essentially what I'd learned in Mr. Biggs's fifth grade biology class: that they were mammals who had once lived on land." But seeing and touching the whales and their newborn calves was an utterly transforming experience for Horwitz and his daughter.
"Every winter, the gray whales return to this lagoon to give birth to their calves, suckle them, and head out for their months-long journey to the Bering Sea, where they have their winter feeding grounds," Horwitz says in this short video.
"We went out on these tiny boats, and there's a remarkable phenomenon in this whale lagoon where the mother whales and their calves actually approach you in these boats, to the point where you can actually reach out and touch them and run your hands through the baleen in their mouth."
"The experience of that kind of contact with wild whales is just indescribable," Horwitz says. "And once you've had that experience, it changes the way you think about these animals. Having that experience and looking at my 13-year-old daughter's response to these animals, particularly in the presence of a mother and a calf, I just felt that I had to do something, and as a writer I decided to try to tell the story of this generation of whales and what they've struggled with for survival."
Horwitz says he hopes what readers will take away from War of the Whales is an understanding of the importance of tenacity in social change. "The book is really a story about two individuals who stood up to the most powerful navy in the world. I think that they are real role models for anyone, particularly young people, who really want to fight for change."
Above, environmental attorney Joel Reynolds and whale researcher Ken Balcomb, the book's two main protagonists. Below, Horwitz and Balcomb at Balcomb's research station on San Juan Island, Washington.
The Planet talked with Horwitz last week about his newfound fascination with "nature's experiment in gigantism" and War of the Whales.