Like the image of a polar bear adrift on an ice floe, “save
the whales” is an environmental cliché. At this point, there
might be more stickers with the slogan than actual whales in the
But where did the whole “save the whales” thing come from,
anyway? Now that we’re all holed up in our homes in hiding from
the coronavirus, there’s no better time to hear the fascinating
story of how it got popularized.
episode of the NPR podcast Invisibilia tells the tale of Roger
Payne, a scientist who became obsessed with whale songs in the late
1960s and spent two years putting together a collection of
heartwrenching recordings that left people in tears. Some were
released on the album Songs of the Humpback Whale in 1970. The
songs ended up playing on radio stations around America, capturing
the public’s imagination and spurring people into caring about a
problem — dying whales — that otherwise seemed distant. The
Save the Whales
organization launched in 1977. Governments around the world
took action to save the biggest mammals on the planet, agreeing
to a global moratorium on commercial whaling that began in
Does Payne’s unlikely success hold any lessons for getting
people to care about climate change today? Invisibilia follows the
story of Payne and an unlikely group of people with the Earth Species Project who came
together a few years ago to translate sperm whale vocalizations
into a language that humans can understand. They hope that the
result will wake people up to the urgency of our overheating
The project was started by Britt Selvitelle, one of Twitter’s
earliest engineers who developed the “like” button, and Aza
Raskin, the inventor of “infinite
scroll,” the reason you can’t find the bottom of your
Instagram and Twitter feeds. They brought Payne onto the team, as
well as David Gruber, a marine biologist heartbroken by the demise
of coral reefs.
Alix Spiegel, one of Invisibilia’s co-hosts, said it took her
half a year to recover from reporting this story, which exacted an
emotional toll. “I hadn’t really looked at climate change in
such a direct way before,” she said in an interview with Grist.
Talking with the four members of the project helped her clearly see
the threat of climate change — and it was scary. Spiegel suddenly
felt as if the things that climate scientists predict will likely
happen in 70 years were happening tomorrow.
As a result, she changed all manner of everyday behaviors:
giving up meat, taking public transportation, scaling back travel
plans, and haranguing people to behave more environmentally
friendly. That took its own toll. “It’s hard to be so socially
and psychologically out of step with people,” Spiegel said.
Will ideas like the Earth Species Project make the crumbling
natural world feel visceral to people, like it did for Spiegel?
Many experts are skeptical — but no one would have predicted that
recordings of whale songs would’ve broken through, either.
If the quarantine’s got you feeling starved for human voices
and the hour-long episode
of Invisibilia whets your appetite for podcasts about climate
change, we’ve got some other recommendations:
Season 3 of the podcast Drilled dives into the history of how
the oil industry pumped Americans full of fake news.
An episode of the New York Times’ The Daily looked at the
recent climate promises from some of the country’s largest
companies — and just how meaningful they actually are.
- Over at Vox,
The Ezra Klein Show paints a picture of what it would really
look like to live in a decarbonized world.
This story was originally published by Grist with the headline
Starved for human voices? Listen to a podcast about whale songs and
climate change. on Mar 25, 2020.
Source: FS – All – Science – News
Starved for human voices? Listen to a podcast about whale songs and climate change.