Since reading Mowat's "Sea of Slaughter," I can't get a certain picture out of my mind. It is of a sandy ocean beach, miles and miles long, where tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of morse came to socialize every summer until the middle of last century. The morse, or northern walrus, was a stupendous animal, of impressive bearing: a veritable lion of the sea. Yet it comes no more to those grounds, once the largest colony of its kind, out on Canada's Magdalene Islands, off the coast of Québec.
To think that the morse were just a side-show to it all. To think that eventually, with the same energy and relentless mechanical force, we would come to decimate the northern fishery more or less entirely, leaving thousands of perplexed fisher folk stranded in coastal villages, wondering perhaps, just where that many fish could possibly have gone.
On land, as in the water, nature's bounty was scarcely less prolific, the European's first reaction, scarcely less horrendous. Could this be the true, unknown history of North America, lying behind and directly concerning those early pilots and navigators like Cabot and Columbus. 400 or more years of unbelievably short-sighted culling of mighty herds, whether they were whales or bison or a hundred other species of birds and mammals known to have been hunted to the last. This is Mowat's sad chronicle. This is his portrait of what one day perhaps, will generally be known and accepted as history. And the only thing that may stop us is that we find we really don't want to ever learn this sort of truth.
Besides being a remarkable contribution to the literature of ecology and environment, this is also one of Mowat's finest personal efforts. You can see by the very nature of the material that it took a being of remarkable strength just to tackle a project like this, let alone bring it to a conclusion. It's probably true that one can prepare all one's life for just one event. In Mowat's case, without negating any other part of his remarkable œuvre, this may just be it.