The Nation: The Wrath of the Ecologist

Herman Melville's white whale was a metaphor for something cosmically elusive. But even in 1850, the whale was almost as easy to catch and slaughter as the buffalo or the Indian. Today, by a process of relentless elimination that is anything but allegorical, whales are becoming an embattled species. Ahab's great-grandchildren fire their harpoons from cannons.

Last week the Department of Commerce, prompted by ecologists, decreed that U.S. fishermen may no longer hunt whales. As sometimes happens, it was a gesture of conservationist piety made too late. Only three whaling ships remain in the U.S.: they are operated by the Del...

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