Lions, whales, and the web : transforming moment inertia into conservation action

Thaler, Andrew D. and Rose, Naomi A. and Cosentino, A. Mel and Wright, Andrew J. (2017) Lions, whales, and the web : transforming moment inertia into conservation action. Frontiers in Marine Science, 4. 292. ISSN 2296-7745 (

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When Farley Mowat wrote A Whale for the Killing in 1972, the titular fin whale, stranded and intentionally wounded in a Newfoundland pond, was long dead, yet the story of Moby Joe and the spectacle surrounding her death would become a cornerstone of the emerging anti-whaling movement (see below). The media frenzy that descended on the small town of Burgeo as the whale struggled to survive, and the subsequent publication of Mowat's book, are among the first examples of efforts to turn spontaneous outpourings of outrage, curiosity, or empathy into conservation action by actively focusing media attention, a phenomenon that we have dubbed moment inertia. We use “moment” because this phenomenon arises from focus of attention around a single, clarifying event, or moment, and “inertia” because that attention propagates, undirected, through media unless acted upon by outside forces, much like physical inertia. Almost half a century later, the events leading to the publication of A Whale for the Killing stand among the most effective uses of moment inertia in the conservation movement.