Beluga Days: Tracking the Endangered White Whale
Counterpoint Press, 2004 (hard cover)
The Mountaineers Books, 2007 (paperback)
Beluga Days is a wonderful evocation of the wilderness of coastal Alaska and the Native communities that still eat whale meat and depend on local foods. It is also a foray into the fascinating labyrinth of Alaskan culture, history, and politics, as the complex relationships in this unique state coalesce in a mad theater around a crisis-the decline of the beluga whales in Cook Inlet, an isolated and genetically distinct population.
Beyond its compelling characters and particulars, Lord's story offers readers a deeper understanding of the often uncomfortable, often rewarding, juxtaposition of humans and the natural world.
For years, Nancy Lord lived with beluga whales at her fishcamp on Alaska's Cook Inlet. Then she observed fewer of them, and fewer still, and then summers passing when they were entirely absent. This literary nonfiction book is the result of a five-year quest to learn what was happening to the whales and to investigate along the way what is known about this northern white whale, issues of conservation and environmental change, and cultural contexts for understanding how humans and whales might continue to live together.
Praise for Beluga Days
"Few books of animal life, conservation, or ethnology achieve the whole, mesmerizing picture of a living system at risk as Beluga Days does, and almost none with Nancy Lord's rich vision of people, creatures, and the greater world they inhabit together. This is the second best book I know about a white whale, and one that just might lead to a happier ending, if only Beluga Days is read, read, read again, and its wisdom followed."
—Robert Michael Pyle
"Nancy Lord has written a flowing account of a special place—Cook Inlet, Alaska—and shown a deep connection with one of Alaska's most remarkable treasures—the Cook Inlet beluga whale. Her clear and compelling style tells a story important for anyone concerned about the places and creatures which define who we are."
—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of the Waterkeeper Alliance
"Lord writes, not with the sentimentalism often associated with whales, but with the professionalism of someone who earns a living from the sea and who respects the belugas whose environment she shares. Beluga Days is an important book filled with issues that resonate beyond the conservation of Cook Inlet's beluga population to other parts of the world where the traditional use of wildlife, conservation and development are increasingly in competition."
--The Economist. See the full review, with map and beluga photo.
"With skillful writing and respect for all her subjects, Lord presents some of the agonizing scientific and cultural dilemmas of saving these animals. Lord ends with a powerful though measured call for the human species to take heed of the beluga, as one of nature's greatest teachers."
"an intriguing blend of scientific writing and impassioned journal of discovery"
For an Anchorage Daily News feature about the author and Beluga Days, see http://www.adn.com/life/story/4559582p-4533397c.html.
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The belugas of Cook Inlet were finally listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in October 2008. A recovery plan has yet to be finalized, and priority research has not been identified and funded. In 2013 federal budget cuts eliminated that year's aerial population survey, a mainstay of beluga study since 1994.
For a number of scientific reports and management decisions related to the Cook Inlet belugas, and to follow the movements of satellite-tagged belugas, see http://www.fakr.noaa.gov/protectedresources/whales/beluga.htm.