Round Rock New Neighbors is a social organization of women welcoming women in the Round Rock area since 1978. Both "new" and "old" neighbors are welcome. For more information: rrnewneighbors.org [Barnes & Noble requires that RRNN's book club be open to the public, so you do not need to be an RRNN member to attend book club, and both men and women are welcome and do attend. ]

Literary Events

Literary Events

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The Friends of the Georgetown Public Library’s Hill Country Authors Series events will be listed here.
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Round Rock Public Library Book Group meets monthly at 7:00-8:30 PM. Check the library website for more information, or ask Carla.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

We Have a Great Party, and The True Story of a Whale's Attack on the Whaleship Essex Presents the History of Whaling

The Round Rock Book Discussion Group had a wonderful holiday party at Pam's house! We had a delicious meal contributed by all of us and we had a great discussion of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Happy holidays to all!

Seeing the movie of the book, In the Heart of the Sea, helped me to visualize the ships and the whales, and the whale attacking the ship. The point of view of the movie differed from that of the book, but the historical details were evident in both. Some of the characters who were in Nantucket and on the ship during the story are still alive. Someone at our meeting said that there are still whales swimming in the ocean that have harpoon remnants attached to them from the time of the story. The whaling industry has changed, from more modern ships that make everything easier to whale protection laws. Our reading adventure, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick, took place at the height of the whaling industry in the United States and the world and perhaps at its apex, though these would be best measured more by the commitment and effort needed for whaling rather than the number of whales killed.

Priscilla, who had found this true adventure story for us, led the discussion with a series of questions that were thought-provoking. One example was the question, "Why did survivors avoid landing on the Pacific Islands? Answers included that the reputation of these islands involved cannibals living there. Pam suggested that the sailors were less afraid of the sea than of the Islanders. Ken said that the range of whale hunting had been expanding at the time of the story, so by then people who were invested in the whaling industry or living on the islands had invented rumors to keep random hunters away. And, he added, what would gather fear of the islands more than a group of men together in a boat for many weeks swapping sea (and island) stories? Jan suggested that the captains didn't want to appear timid, so they commanded that the ships continue toward their destinations rather than stopping at the islands for food and relaxation.

A big question presented by the book was, Why did the whale attack the ship? Marcia felt that since whales are smart, the whale was reacting to seeing it's friends and relatives attacked and hurt. Carla recalled that the first mate on the ship, Owen Chase, had been on board hitting boards with a hammer, repairing the ship and lifeboats. She said that the reverberations of the hammer might have resembled whale sounds and incited the whale to attack the ship as it would attack another whale or group of males. Kathleen told a story about animals adapting to odd situations and knowing when to hide and when to attack. Marla added that the whale females tended to stay in groups, and that one job of the males was to protect them. The males might have seen the ship as a whale and might have attacked it to protect the pod of female whales. Regardless, said Carla and Cindy T; the ship was old and falling apart, which was part of why the men were fixing it. Had the ship been newer and in better condition, it might have withstood the whale attack better and not sunk.

Other questions addressed the comparative qualifications of Captain Pollard and first mate Chase, and whether it would have been better to stay on Henderson Island or to sail away, and why the townspeople were silent when the remaining crew finally arrived at Nantucket. Further discussion centered around whale conservation versus possible extinction. There are movements to discourage the consumption of whale products, especially as food. The sperm whale population is currently considered to be "vulnerable" rather than "endangered," thanks to the International Whaling commission enacting conservation laws in the 1980s, but many whales before and since have fallen to consumption.

This was a real and true survival story, complete with such sea hardships as sinking ships, severe hunger and thirst, hot sun and freezing winter, winds blowing ships off course until they were lost, food rationing to a piece or less of hardtack per day and very little or no water, times of gorging on fish or birds only to bring on severe thirst and depletion of the animal populations, men becoming extremely weak and dying, and, of course, cannibalism. Along with the deprivations of whaling were the odors of the sea, such a dead whales. In the 1990s, some Nantucketers tried to create a museum and put a whale specimen in it. The whale specimen smelled too strongly to be contained, and the bones are supposedly still exuding oil to this day.  

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