Burgeo, a peaceful little village on the southwest coast of Newfoundland, with its two-storey wooden houses. A land hard as rock facing an always icy sea. The inhabitants who survive there have taken on the local color to forge a character fit for survival. The writer and adventurer Farley Mowat is forced to drop anchor there following a breakdown in the engine of his schooner. He likes the place and accepts the proposal to buy a house there with a breathtaking view of the sea just opposite. The presence of whales, these "Colossi of the oceans", in his immediate environment, will change his life forever.
There are two kinds of whales: toothed and baleen, including the blue whale, the greatest colossus of all time. These mammals have the same origins as humans, "beings who, like early man, were endowed with great intellectual potential, [but] despite our vaunted ability to fathom the secrets of the universe , we have so far failed to fathom the mystery that is the spirit of the whale.
While whales were initially hunted for food, with the arrival of a more urbanized society, where oil lamps have become a necessity, whales will be hunted for considerations other than food: grease for oil to fuel lamps, but also baleen for making utensils and "horn" windows.
A real massacre, according to the author, in which the Basques were past masters, but also the Norwegians, "the most ruthless marauders of the seas of all time and by far the most consummate killers of marine life. [...] The massacre reached its climax in the early 1930s, when up to eighty thousand great whales died each year! »
Mowat shares with us his admiration for cetaceans, all species combined.
They are beings of supreme beauty, he says, "paragons of grace who have known how to establish a harmonious relationship with the aquatic world, a relationship such as man never would know in the air or on the earth. , in nature or in art".
But human stupidity is immeasurable. The author describes several times these hunting parties organized in groups to kill whales for the simple "pleasure" of doing it, for family or group fun.
So he undertakes, one day, to save a huge whale – a female – stuck in a pond and at which people from the village have fired with large caliber weapons – more than 150 small breaches in the skin –, but without success. to shoot him down.
Then begins a real odyssey, a race against time. While waiting to find a certain depth of water with the arrival of high tides, which would allow the whale to get out of its prison, Mowat must find enough food to feed it. He must also convince the villagers to leave the animal alone, which turns out to be more difficult.
Mowat decides to stir up public opinion about the fate that awaits the whale if nothing is done to prevent the massacre.
Successful operation. The press is racing. Even the premier of the province intervenes in favor of the whale. With pain and misery, we will organize the feeding of the whale with fresh fish. But it was too little too late. Human stupidity will finally overcome this water giant. The wounds caused by the impacts of large caliber bullets will become infected and, in the absence of powerful antibiotics, the whale will die.
Accused of having caused the death of the whale by the international media, the people of this peaceful little village will turn against the writer who had no other choice but to leave the village. Sad end for this fascinating story, halfway through the test.