22 AUGUST 1958, Page 22

Ample Demonstrations

MAN'S obsession with the Whale does not date from Melville. Japanese and Norse neolithics whaled in tiny kayaks, and a cuneiform inscription describes the Assyrian Tiglath-Pileser 1 boarding a Phcenician ship in 1100 sc--`a blower in the great sea he slew.' The whale has always been a considerable industrial concern, and of the later fishermen Mr. Sanderson particularly praises the Basques, who held a virtual monopoly of Western whaling between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. 'Harpoon,' he maintains, de- rives from `Arpoi,' a stone-age Basque word, 'to grasp.' Basques probably reached America before the Columbus era and began the factory- ships, a revolution as important as the harpoon- gun and steam. Whale statistics are, of course, very revealing. Ambergris once fetched £143 an ounce : 10,000 cuttle-fish were dis- covered in a single bottle-nose : a nine- teenth-century American whaler declared a dividend of 363 per cent. In the savage, wasteful nineteenth century 78,000 bottle-noses were killed in seventy-five years by Scottish whalers alone. The cruelty of some of the methods is notorious. It is not surprising that the Black Rights are almost extinct, the Atlantic greys have vanished and hump-backs, finners and blues are gravely re- duced. All things considered it is clearly essential that the recent international conservation policy should be strictly maintained. Far Eastern whalers, please note! It is a mixed tale of greed and courage. Mr. Sanderson knows his whale, but in- stead of the historical evocations which precede each chapter I would have preferred some account of the whale's effect on human imagination. Apart from a reference to the Cretan's reverence for it and a disrespectful interpretation of Jonah, we learn almost nothing of the whale in myth and ritual.

Mr. Carrington, however, devotes a chapter to art, magic and religion in recounting the evolution and influence of the elephant, which has also endured centuries of exploitation for military and domestic benefits. The elephant's future, too, has seemed precarious. Feeding for sixteen hours daily, consuming up to 6 cwt. of vegetation, it is ill-adapted to seasonal or climatic emergency, and two extant species alone survive from 352 branches. Mr. Carrington suggests that the elephant declined more from this over-specialisation than from unscrupulous Romans or Asiatics, or even our own wasteful Economic Man with his rifle and ivory-lust. Man has certainly ravaged the herds, cruelly, sometimes fatally, as in Roman Africa, but, with more far-seeing policies, the elephant is actually increasing in certain regions.

The elephant has acted as State executioner, as a ceremonial vehicle for Marshal Zhukov, as the equivalent of an armoured tank and over-all haulage system; has been taught cricket; has been used ritually for rain-making and has soused a Pope on formal presentation. Elephants are sexu- ally sopllisticated, affectionate, matriarchal, alco- holic, liable to mumps. Their intelligence, it seems, has been overrated, though a well-trained beast will finally respond to at least thirty different commands. Mr. Carrington enlarges on all this with respect and affection. By its attitude to soil, trees and nature, a society may be judged: some, indeed, have perished through greed for quick profits. The seventeenth-century view of the elephant as 'a great and ample demonstration of the wisdom of almighty God' was not ignoble.