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Canadian author Farley Mowat. Poetic plea for the environment by a writer barred from the US

By Cynthia B. Marquand / November 1, 1985



River Bougeoise, Nova Scotia

Amid the rambling wild roses that border the backyard of Canadian writer Farley Mowat stands a vertebra of a whale. The luminescent bone protrudes from the soil like an ancient relic, and on first glance resembles an ethereal statue of a one-legged, bowing angel. It was 1972 when this world-renowned literary spokesman for the wilds and his wife, Claire, found the bone half buried in the sands of the Magdalen Islands. They dug it up with their hands, and eventually placed it by a pond here at their seaside summer home.

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``It's symbolic of the whales and what's happened to them,'' says Mr. Mowat, who has written frequently on the subject. On the west coast of Newfoundland, he says, ``half the beaches are whale bones.'' And in Red Bay, on the southern coast of Labrador, ``the bottom of the harbor is coated with whale bones.''

These are the remnants left behind by whaling crews of bygone days that serve to remind him of the devastation man has wrought on this marine species that once swarmed the oceans in profuse numbers. For Mowat, it is also a warning of what may happen to all wild species if adequate preservation measures are not taken soon by world governments.

``What concerns me is the diminution of the remaining populations [of animals] which are not yet officially extinct, but who have been so reduced they are, in effect, either extinct or on their way to extinction,'' he says.

``We are doing it worldwide, everywhere in the world. We're visiting a kind of mass destruction that hasn't been seen since the great die-off of the dinosaurs, and maybe what we're doing is even worse, even more disastrous.''

A recently published statistic by highly regarded environmentalist Norman Myers confirms that at the present rate of extinction, we will see the loss of 50,000 species a year by the year 2000 (predominantly insects, and not including plant species), and will be driving 130 species into extinction every day.

Mowat is one of his country's most honored authors. He has twice won the Governor General's Award, the most prestigious Canadian literary award. He is the recipient of the Anisfield-Wolf Award for his contributions on interracial relations and was decorated with the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honor. He is also highly regarded by a wide range of environmental organizations.

``He's admired in the sense that he has brought ecological issues to the public,'' says Daniel Moses, editorial director of Sierra Club Books.

Mowat's environmental concerns run deep in his writings. Most of his 28 books -- which he refers to as ``cause books'' -- are rife with Canadian imagery and Arctic settings. They tussle with issues of endurance and survival, draw upon the interconnectedness of life, and highlight man's compassion for and inhumanity to his environment. They are poetic, palatable, humorous, and often strikingly frank in their message. Perhaps best known are his books ``A Whale for the Killing'' and ``Never Cry Wolf,'' bot h of which were made into films.

``Never Cry Wolf'' was the first book ever written in defense of the wolf, Mowat says. It was Published in 40 languages, it and even drew readers from the Soviet Union. Yet he laments that the book did little to raise consciousness about the plight of this endangered species.

``As a species, it's gone. And men continue to destroy it without thought for what they're doing, simply for selfish reasons.''

Then there is the Atlantic black right whale, which numbers about 300.