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The Urban Whale

The Urban Whale

North Atlantic Right Whales at the Crossroads

Edited by Scott D. Kraus and Rosalind M. Rolland

ISBN 9780674034754

Publication date: 03/30/2010

In 1980 a group of scientists censusing marine mammals in the Bay of Fundy was astonished at the sight of 25 right whales. It was, one scientist later recalled, “like finding a brontosaurus in the backyard.” Until that time, scientists believed the North Atlantic right whale was extinct or nearly so. The sightings electrified the research community, spurring a quarter century of exploration, which is documented here.

The authors present our current knowledge about the biology and plight of right whales, including their reproduction, feeding, genetics, and endocrinology, as well as fatal run-ins with ships and fishing gear. Employing individual identifications, acoustics, and population models, Scott Kraus, Rosalind Rolland, and their colleagues present a vivid history of this animal, from a once commercially hunted commodity to today’s life-threatening challenges of urban waters.

Hunted for nearly a millennium, right whales are now being killed by the ocean commerce that supports our modern way of life. This book offers hope for the eventual salvation of this great whale.


  • Whales depend on sound for intraspecies communication, and according to one of the studies republished in this book ‘the chance of two animals hearing each other today has been reduced to 10 percent of what it was one hundred years ago.’ Add imprecise (but real) threats such as general habitat loss and degradation, and, of course, climate change, and you begin to understand why the North Atlantic right whale is under siege. Will we stand by and watch the last of the great whales vanish? Scott D. Kraus and Rosalind M. Rolland, who wrote the final chapter of The Urban Whale, are not optimistic, but they are not without hope.

    —Richard Ellis, Times Literary Supplement


  • Scott D. Kraus is Vice President for Research at the New England Aquarium.
  • Rosalind M. Rolland is Senior Scientist/Policy Analyst, Global Marine Programs and Research, the New England Aquarium.

Book Details

  • 576 pages
  • 6-1/16 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press