DUNIH 2017 2 8
A. C. Hardy, ‘Capture of Blue Whale’, Discovery Oceanographic Expedition 1925-27. Collection, courtesy Dundee Heritage Trust.

i & ii.

ice breaker , hold still,

a touch

shred the opportune from possibility

life from its reflexes, of the

fear & upheaval known,

lived, passed through, speared,

incarce/rated, disrupted

ecological ruin

sown in land

grabs & steam

cast violent lines out from europe,

the re/ordering of sea, land, life, ground

bitten & frost, horse, permeated,

the atlantic in wakes

& floes [1], directions

to foment colony

w/ durable hands, ships forged

on these northern shores

:: lay the ropes of the world in

your desire to control / profit on hunt,

bid lines warfaring, raw

material to sake market

all cetaceans game, in the

simplicity happening to be t/here

mind’s eye fed resolution & adventure to stumble, survey

yur wilderness of water, ice

to seek wealth & oil, heat & food

knowing your insatiable islands

every last seam as

possible industry / to carve




driven polarities to align

compelled from vertigo

light cut in scope

of your buoyancy, forged in

thousands’ wet eclipse, re-

frain submerged, rich on the volume

of body , blue & humpback to black depth

motions blessed to krill


on the memory of vast kin

/ the century each of you might

span , air in the thrive

& for water to be known as south

atlantic / antarctic perimeter

heartland to impose human

roving harpoons & trades,,

noise, marked by royal standards for the industrial frontiers

of europe

, in pursuit of new flesh

having dredged the lives from your nearest waters

# turned other for salve/sen, to

drive extinction, fore/shadow temperate edges dulled

, the permanent day worked on as

ecology touched only into itself,

prefabric/ate an industrial harbour,

[corrugated iron & asbestos]

& minimise, later, a pelagic factory to float w/-

out regulation


repeating / resonant flesh /

call inchoate hydrophonia ,


hz frequency blues


two lulls [2]

migration bel/lows , waves

crepuscular babble

in miles of hundreds

& carries





ty know &

tune ears

w/ age

& the noise [we] tune into you

& sunk mechanical frequencies

churned carbon &

life dis/possessed ,

diesel & sonar

, nuclear

& other missiles [3],

blown amplitude as modern & cut

edges & combust

⎯ logi.stical

trade noise & ice cuts known as

commodities & debt

frequencies to vibrate

oceans’ heat ,

, channel / direct the melt


low price works the antarctic density

harp bold over water & ⎯

coiling, fires & hoists to flag the dead ⎯

a career body

, steam blue spots fin & wrong ‘sinks rapidly’

barrel on ties / trajectory

,, eye full ahead

spring loaded innovative line

even the catcher would recoil by the gun

⎯shoots in the footage⎯

cries when you axe it’s life

, becoming unit, becoming catch

tugged & hauled to the flensing plan

or bow, peels back skin &

blubber , & first would leave

the rest of you out to float ⎯

later, cutters worked out

guts, warmed his hands on your blood,

took the rest to the steam saw [4].

in the fordist heat, extracted, stored your oils

, boiled down, coagulated,

churned to hard fat, taken to market

to face hungry bodies mouths burners

stoves guns accounts


laying out the scope:

Named after the port that housed its parent company, between 1909-1963, South Leith housed the largest fishery to have existed in the world. Run by Salvesen’s on the island of South Georgia, it was two oceans from the continent where its produce, alongside the wealth that came from extracting so much life from the ocean, was destined. By 1914: four thousand, five hundred humpback whales hunted producing 8000 tonnes of oil a year [5]. 1925: eight thousand whales (blue, fin, humpback, southern right) killed in a year, for £300,000 profits ( £100 million today). Whale oil produced from blubber was used in cooking, in margarine, and later in nitro-glycerine for explosives, primarily for European markets. 1931: forty-two thousand whales killed in a year by pelagic whaling. Over the 1930s, Salvesen’s made £1.1 million from whaling ( £365 million today). Taxes on the industry funded UK research into whale biology, to provide a basis for industrial sustainability, in a context that its work force understood to be unsustainable. In over 50 years, this industry pulled 1.6 million cetaceans, including three hundred thousand blue whales and seven hundred thousand fin whales from southern oceans. (Current blue whale population estimates number around 25,000 worldwide). These numbers describe the mass slaughter of–and extraction of wealth towards Scotland and the UK from–the world’s largest mammals. It is one link among many that begins with a land grab by the British Crown, and ends in near ecocide–to bottle and barrel the dwellers of the bottom of oceans [6]. While creating work for urban and island communities in Scotland, its colossal extractions of wealth primarily benefited the capitalist class.

South atlantic map crop copy 1
South Atlantic Ocean (1857), detail, showing the tip of the South American continent, and the Falkland, South Georgia, South Orkneys and South Shetlands islands, including traces of whaling voyages (1860s-1880s). Compiled by J.S. Hobbs, F.R.G.S. Hydrographer [00.222.24]. Courtesy the New Bedford Whaling Museum (Creative Commons). https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:zk51wb04f


given today, how water as animate turbulence

cuts southern exposed shores, mountains, worlds,

where drinking water dries, historically

marked by colonial extractions ⎯

& that today, these atlantics swim with memory

living also in human workers,

industrial pillage,,

its afterlife moving as accumulated capital ⎯

& that in the desire of nations to control oceans

, pour frequencies & detonations, to service the next war,

dis/rupt planetary needs we need to trust

rush dives up to beach whales the

stress of military occupation [7] ⎯

in reply to decades, silence, neutrality

reluctance to turn wealth into a means to heal, to cede control

, what reparative relation could be

forged from here to oceanic life ⎯

melodies / absorbed by water, i

lay at sands

, weave

by your calls’ mourning,

may the war games freeze by the ice they wash from earth

may empires rust

Leith, Scotland
December 2020–January 2021

908px Solveig Jacobsen
Photograph of Solveig Jacobsen on the Grytviken flensing plan, taken by Magistrate Edward Binnie in 1916; scan by Apcbg. Edward Binnie (1884-1956), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


[1] Written during a national lockdown for coronavirus, this text is partly based on secondary sources available digitally during this time.

Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016.

[2] Brian S. Miller, Russell Leaper, Susannah Calderan and Jason Gedamke. ‘Red Shift, Blue Shift: Investigating Doppler Shifts, Blubber Thickness, and Migration as Explanations of Seasonal Variation in the Tonality of Antarctic Blue Whale Song’. PLoS ONE 9 (9), 2016. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0107740.

[3] Numerous recent deaths of whales around the Scottish coast have been linked to military activity. For a summary, see Sophie Hadley, ‘Naval Sonar in Scotland Called Into Question After Whales Found Stranded’, Earth.Org, 5 January 2021, https://earth.org/naval-sonar-…

[4] Britain’s Whale Hunters: The Untold Story, The Rise, 23:00 05/07/2018, BBC4, 60 mins. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk… (Accessed 15 Feb 2021).

[5] Britain’s Whale Hunters: The Untold Story, The Fall, 23:00 12/07/2018, BBC4, 60 mins. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk… (Accessed 15 Feb 2021). All statistics and contemporary economic valuations in this paragraph are from this source.

[6] These thoughts are nourished by Alexis Pauline Gumbs, who addresses practices of unlearning forms of kinship and ‘the systems tied to the colonial reproduction of individuality’ as a stake of planetary survival, which may include listening to non-human life. Gumbs asks, ‘[w]hat if my actions in solidarity with the ocean are a writing of the future, a visible myth unfolding?’. In, ‘Being Ocean as Praxis: Depth Humanisms and Dark Sciences’, Qui Parle, 28 (2), December 2019, pp. 335-352, p. 342. See also Gumbs’ new book Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammels. Chico and Edinburgh: AK Press, 2020.

[7] On the relations between the militarisation of the ocean, war games, carbon emissions and climate change, see Elizabeth Deloughrey, ‘Toward a Critical Ocean Studies for the Anthropocene’, English Language Notes, 57 (1), April 2019, pp. 21-36


Nat Raha is a poet and activist-scholar. Her third collection of poetry is of sirens, body and faultlines (Boiler House Press, 2018). She is a Research Fellow on the ‘Life Support: Forms of Care in Art and Activism’ project at the University of St Andrews.

This writing forms part of a MAP series curated by Camara Taylor, looking at ‘the cold’ in its various registers and realities.

This commission developed as a collaboration between the Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) and 2020 MAP resident Reviews and Projects Co-editors Alison and Rosie. Special thanks to Jeda Pearl of SBWN.