Today’s guest post is written by Douglas Carlton Abrams, author of “Eye of the Whale: A Novel.”* The book is an eco-thriller about a marine biologist whose life is forever altered after the unexpected appearance of a humpback whale that sends her on a race to discover the meaning of its mysterious song and what it means for human survival. The book went on sale August 4th, 2009.
When I began researching this novel, I had no idea quite how devastating our impact on the aquatic ecosystem has been—and how what we are doing to water is affecting us on the land. I had no idea, for example, that killer whales are filled with flame retardants—chemicals that are compromising their immune systems and ours. I had no idea that beluga whales are so filled with toxic chemicals that when they wash up dead on shore, they must be treated like toxic waste. Let me explain how I began a journey that took me to swim with the humpback whales and cage dive with the white sharks in search of answers.
I start out every novel with a question, not an answer. One day, I was sitting by the fire reading my twin daughters a children’s story about a trapped whale, just after another whale had swum up the Thames. A scientist friend was visiting and started telling me some astonishing facts about new environmental dangers to our children’s and other animals’ health on the land and in the water.
I asked myself: what if these events were connected? What if whales and humans were threatened by the same dangers? I knew that the answer to this question would result in a thrilling and important story. I had no idea when I started quite how thrilling and important the story I discovered would be.
I discovered that there is an environmental threat as grave as global warming, and it is doing to our bodies and the rest of the animal world what global warming is doing to our climate. It is called endocrine disruption—toxic chemicals are shifting our fundamental physiological processes in the body. It has been linked to a rise in infertility, childhood cancers, breast and prostate cancer, birth defects, even autism and the decrease in the number of boys that are being born. We know what’s happening at the macro, but I had no idea what was happening at the micro level.
That day when I was sitting by the fire reading to my daughters, I asked myself a question that was both deeply personal and universal. It is a question that many of us are increasingly asking ourselves: Can we survive, and what might be stronger than our greed, our fear, and our denial?
I needed an answer to this question, and there is no better place to ask questions about the future than in the fictional world. I did get an answer to my question. There is indeed something that is stronger than greed, fear, and denial, but I better not say more or I may give away too much of the story.
I do think there is hope. Writing this book terrified me, but it also gave me hope. What is important is not just to lament the long litany of environmental destruction—that most of the edible fish in the oceans will be gone by 2050 from overfishing and that coral reefs are dying faster than anyone anticipated. What we need is to understand how all these individual tragedies fit together and are caused by the relationship that we have to the wild and to the environment as a whole. Writing this novel was my attempt to understand how it all fits together and how we might just be able to turn it around.