Righting the Whale: Fast Science As Science Fiction for Eubalaena Glacialis in the Anthropocene

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 08:30
Oral Presentation
Deatra WALSH, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Norway
The summer of 2017 has been a particularly troubling one for Eubalaena glacialis, also known as the North Atlantic Right Whale. By the end of August, 13 of the approximate 500 remaining endangered whales died. The deaths prompted scientists and government officials in both Canada and the United States to further investigate and respond.

In this paper, I critically examine the unfolding of this “unusual mortality event”, posing two main questions, namely: what is happening to the whales and what action should be taken? Drawing upon international print news coverage available online from April to August and a theoretical framework informed by posthumanism, actor network theory and an ethics of cohabitation, I analyze academic, bureaucratic and popular discourses that emerged as increasingly more whales died. I find evidence of scientific uncertainty and, not surprisingly, anthropomorphism. The discourses reveal a spectrum of human/non-human actors called upon to participate in “righting the whale”, thus suggesting an underlying ethics in addressing the issue. The analysis has theoretical and practical implications for (re)imagining the Anthropocene. I introduce the concepts fast science and fast bureaucracy to account for the sheer speed at which a human understanding and response will be required in this new age, and yet acknowledge that even the fastest science cannot anticipate a science fiction troubled by the impossible decentering of a human lens.