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Red Leviathan: The Secret History of Soviet Whaling

Written by April Winz • September 30, 2022

Ryan Tucker Jones, professor of History, published a new book titled Red Leviathan: The Secret History of Soviet Whaling (University of Chicago Press, 2022).  

Red Leviathan discusses the role played by the Soviet Union in endangering whale populations while, at the same time, contributing to their scientific understanding through key discoveries made by Russian scientists on whaling vessels. By basing his account on Soviet archives and interviews with ex-whalers, Jones offers a complex history on the Soviet Union’s whaling practices and community relationships with the whaling industry.  

“The oceans may have been, as Peter the Great said, windows to the West, but oceans were also windows into Russia. They, and the whales that lived in them, symbolized many of the things Russians felt they themselves lacked. Russia’s pre-revolutionary whaling history offers numerous examples of these frustrations, as well as many wild schemes designed to right Russia’s relationship with the ocean. And it is this history of failure and resentment that is essential for understanding the motivations that much later drove Soviet whalers to attack the world’s oceans when their chance finally arrived.” 

Ryan Tucker Jones is a professor of history, specializing in Russia and global environment, at the University of Oregon. He has authored two other books: Empire of Extinction: Russians and the Strange Beasts of the Sea and Across Species and Cultures: New Histories of Pacific Whaling (Co-authored with Angela Wanhalla).

April Winz is a communications specialist for the Department of History at the University of Oregon.