Local author McLeish visits Jesse Smith Library in Harrisville for presentation on narwhals

Local author McLeish visits Jesse Smith Library in Harrisville for presentation on narwhals

BURRILLVILLE - "Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World" is the latest book by Burrillville resident, natural history writer, and URI publicist Todd McLeish.

He'll be at the Jesse Smith Public Library, 100 Tinkham Lane, Harrisville, on Tuesday, April 9, at 7 p.m., to discuss the book and his research trip to the Arctic Circle.

According to McLeish, "Research for the book took me on adventures high above the Arctic Circle where I spent weeks at a time far from civilization living in a whale research camp in Canada and an Inuit whale hunting camp in Greenland, among other travels."

He spent time with Inuit hunters who spoke little English and who ate little but raw whale blubber, uncooked bacon, and bread.

"That may have been my most challenging experience, partly because of the food and communication issues but mostly because I was there to observe a narwhal hunt, which, to a wildlife lover like me, was an awful thing to witness," said McLeish. "But in order to tell the complete story of the narwhal, I had to learn about subsistence hunting firsthand."

Narwhals are small whales most notable for their 8-foot long spiral tusk, a tooth that grows through their upper lip and is used by males to maintain social order. The tusk plays a role in the unicorn myth, too, and they can sell for thousands of dollars, though it is illegal to own one in the U.S., McLeish stated in a press release.

McLeish, who wrote two previous books about rare wildlife in New England, said he has been fascinated by narwhals since childhood. In addition to his trip to Greenland, he also spent two weeks with Canadian researchers in a camp 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle as they sought to trap narwhals and attach satellite tracking devices on them to monitor their migration.

"It was the middle of summer, but still only 35 degrees, we were in 24-hour daylight, and we had to stand guard around the clock to watch out for polar bears," he said. "Every six or eight hours a group of about 200 narwhals swam by our camp, and it was pretty amazing to see and hear them parade by. And for the whole two weeks I was there, the whales successfully avoided being caught in our nets."

McLeish's book, published by University of Washington Press, took four years to complete and features interviews with dozens of experts around the globe.

"The biologists I spoke to said that narwhals are the Arctic marine mammal most threatened by climate change because they are the least adaptable to a changing environment. They are ice dependent animals that spend the winter feeding in waters 98 percent covered by ice," McLeish explained.

In addition, McLeish also stated that "the warming Arctic will open up more of the whale's habitat to commercial fishing for the same species the narwhals eat. Expanding oil and gas exploration in the same area brings the threat of oil spills as well as noises that could disturb the communication and behavior of the skittish whales."

For more information about McLeish's books, visit www.toddmcleish.com .