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xvii P r o l o g u e O n 7 February 2005, in the Nemuro Straits, off the Shiretoko Peninsula of eastern Hokkaido, near the small town of Rausu, a pod of twelve orcas became hemmed in between a fast-moving, windblown ice floe and the jagged coast. In the morning, Rausu residents could hear the orcas crying out from the ice as they tried to escape, the sound piercing the howling North Pacific winds. This part of Japan is ice-cold country in the winter. By afternoon, however, the whales had visibly tired and their cries had grown discernibly weaker. Rausu residents, armed with ropes, tried to dislodge the whales and did manage to free one adult female the next day. She was last seen swimming slowly in open water; the ice floe crushed to death the rest of her pod. The water around the remaining whales turned a pinkish color as the rocky shore sliced and ripped their smooth cetacean bodies. The dead consisted of one adult male, five adult females, and five calves. Veterinary experts performed necropsies on nine of these whales. The results were even more disturbing than the image of an entire pod being crushed to death along the rocky coast of Hokkaido. In the blubber of the whales, PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) and mercury concentrations were estimated to be eleven times higher than normal for whales in Japanese coastal waters.1 As wolves of the sea, orcas sit squarely at the top of most xviii Prologue marine food chains, and the toxins had bioaccumulated in their bodies . Milk was discovered in the stomachs of the calves, and this was one toxic pathway, from mother to child. Deeply disturbing were reports by an underwater cameraman (who had helped retrieve the carcasses) that the largest adult female had died while hovering above one of the younger whales, apparently protecting her calf. Her huge flippers remained wrapped around the body of the younger whale. Early reports indicated that two of the calves had parasitic illnesses, but it is more likely that they suffered birth deformities caused by the elevated mercury and PCB concentrations. One calf had a sore on its jaw, while the other had problems with its adrenal glands and kidneys. We will never know for sure why these normally sea-savvy creatures were trapped between ice and shore. An early speculation that the ice, driven by high winds, had caught the cetaceans by surprise while they hunted seals seems facile: orcas can swim fast (at about fifty kilometers per hour in bursts). I think it is more likely that the calves suffered from birth defects caused by industrial toxins and that they slowed the pod down. The pod’s decision to stay with their deformed calves even as the ice moved quickly toward shore cost them their lives. I must confess that, partway through writing this book, when I heard the story of this destroyed orca pod, a darker tone began to permeate parts of my analysis and narrative. The image of a mother orca trying in vain to protect her deformed calf was hard to shake, particularly because I assume some blame, as a member of Homo sapiens industrialis, for their destruction . These whales and the other souls like them that suffer from elevated industrial toxins in their bodies represent the legacy of industrialized Earth. Just as the mother orca bequeathed poisons to her calf, we bequeath the legacy of our toxic bodies to our offspring. I tried to exorcise the darker side of this book during later editing and rewriting, but I was unable or, quite possibly, unwilling to do so. No doubt, when they read the pages ahead, some of my colleagues will cry out, “He narrates environmental declension!” And rightly so, I should add.2 But I remain unapologetic: I am a historian and I am calling it as I see it, and I see environmental decline and deterioration everywhere. In the end, this book, though analytically so much more, became the story of one nation’s contribution to the profound environmental mess in which we find ourselves. It is the story of the birth of Japan’s toxic archipelago.3 T o x i c A r c h i p e l a g o ...


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