Book Review || The Moon by Whale Light by Diane Ackerman

Celebrated naturalist Diane Ackerman’s intriguing and enlightening collection of essays ‘The Moon by Whale Light and other adventures among bats, penguins, crocodilians, and whales’ is one of those books that reaffirms the majesty and beauty of nature and its creatures, and how humans, who have declared ourselves the most intelligent and the most deserving of God’s blessings, have lost their way by not remaining connected to the natural world.

Ackerman’s passion for her subject is revealed in beautiful, detailed and eloquent descriptions of, literally, everything: from the many sunrises and sunsets she has been honoured to witness and the many people she has met to the utter magnanimity of nature and the creatures she has been sent to study.

The four essays that form part of this collection focus on very different creatures, and yet they are all connected through their very real need for society, nourishment, love, and survival - needs humans happen to share with them.

In Praise of Bats is my first favourite of the collection since it focuses very much on the bats themselves, such as their positive characteristics and interesting facts about them, the mythology that has controlled how we see them, and how they positively contribute to their environments and ours.

The Eyelids of the Morning, while taking as its focal point the lives and times of crocodilians, is a more poetic look at the animals in question, but still quite eye-opening if you ever thought that these animals were nothing but hulking, hungering beasts.

The Moon by Whale Light is my second favourite of the collection. It is a treaty about cetaceans and how little we truly know about the ocean and its depths.
We ache to know of other forms of equally intelligent life in the universe, and yet here are creatures as unknown as extraterrestrials right among us, moving in a slow-motion ballet under the ocean. [112]
In this essay, Ackerman delves into such mysteries as humpback whale singing but it is obviously geared at showing us how much we have yet to learn about the animals we share this earth with and how little we are doing to respect them. She also spends more time speaking about the people who have devoted their lives to studying these animals.

Diane Ackerman
White Lanterns I enjoyed the least, not because it was uninteresting but because the focus seemed to shift from describing the journey to and terrain of Antarctica to the penguins rather than following a single thought - it was as though there was so much to see and learn that Ackerman tried to cram the essay with everything she could.

All four essays, however, are connected by the common thread of the danger in which these animals are from the creature at the top of the so-called food chain: us. Through our relentless boring into and robbing of the earth, we have not only changed the environments these animals live in but in some cases have irreparably damaged their habitats and populations. And we don’t stop there: we slaughter them for food, leather, trophies, or personal gain. Just this week, results of a study were published that found that nearly three-fifths of vertebrate animals had been wiped out by us since 1970. Global wildlife stocks could drop to just two-thirds in the next four years. Four years!? And what will we do when we are all alone on this planet?

It seems this is the question Ackerman poses to her readers in all her essays, and the solution can only be to respect them all and the natural environment that we share. Is it crazy for us to believe we can stop it all now? Is it too late?

{Image credit: Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons}


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