ancestryink fisherman

Friday, July 19, 2013

Let's Talk About the Cover of Rolling Stone - Things Are Heating Up

Warning:   I am about to post an image of the cover of this week's Rolling Stone magazine.  You can turn away right now, or hear me out.  Because just to the left of the inflammatory, controversial image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev,  is the headline for another extremely important issue:  "The Arctic Ice Melt: Report from the Front Lines of Climate Change."  I have to tell you - this is the article I cannot wait to read.

Blistering heat and high humidity this week, on the East Coast, and over much of the country.  It certainly gives one pause to think about global warming. Maybe the following 1871 story of icebergs and shipwrecks will at least give you a few moments of coolness. 

It is a dramatic tale and a true one. Despite the $1.6 million loss to the whaling industry, (in our 2013 terms, that translates into over $22 million)* and the desperate circumstances, great heroics were exhibited and not one life, out of the 1200 whaling mariners involved, was lost in this icy disaster that took place in the Bering Straits.

The New York Herald reported the incident in their November 7, 1871 edition, in the following way: (article, broken into excerpts)

Financial view of the Arctic whaling incdent

Thirty-three vessels in this report - lost in the Arctic Ocean.  What happened to cause a disaster of such large proportion?  The incident would affect the whaling industry for years and garnered attention, worldwide.

Abandonment of the Whalers in Arctic Ocean
The next excerpt from the New York Herald article lays the timeline for the event: (click to read)

Scientific observations about whale migration

The fleet of whaling ships would push northward in June of 1871, in pursuit of the bowhead whale.  As the whale sightings became more plentiful, the fleet pushed on passing through the Bering Straits into the Arctic Ocean.  In June, the ice was open and passage through was viable.

"Have we not here, then, some very valuable hints in reference to any future expedition in search of the North Pole and the open sea, into which these whales migrate as their summer cruising ground?"

As early as 1871, the migrations of both whale and ice were under investigation.

Images of the whaling disaster were even caved in scrimshaw
What happened next was unprecedented.  The floating moving bergs of Arctic Ice would shift in such a way as to surround the 32 ships and - crush them. All were lost.  The nine remaining ships who had heeded the warning of local populations, would turn from a whaling mission to a rescue mission.

The next excerpt from the New York Herald, November 1871:

1200 sailors  rescued by remaining fleet

A word of remonstrance to the unfortunate whalers. The article would conclude by reminding whalers to familiarize themselves with the patterns of whale migration and to take note of the effects of a warm and sunny June, July and August, in the Arctic region.  This warming trend in 1871 proved disastrous and affected the whaling community until - believe it or not - a very similar incident took place seven years later, in 1878.

I look forward to reading both articles in Rolling Stone. I hear the article about the Marathon Bomber is very well-written, and I like good, informative news writing.

But this remarkable tale of the demise of the whaling fleet shows that warming trends happened, and then reversed themselves - and happened again.  Is this historic pattern of polar ice migration forever lost now?  Have we irretrievably warmed our planet to a point of no return?   The headline posted next to the Bomber's image on the cover of Rolling Stone?  That is the article I will read first.

* Source: has a colorful depiction of the 1871 Arctic whaling loss on the National Marine Sanctuaries website. Though I have read of this disaster from many different sources, including whale ship logs of Falmouth sea captains, this website provides an excellent total picture of the remarkable event. To read more: click here.

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