“Moby Dick” in the Rhine: How a Beluga Whale Raised Awareness of Water Pollution in West Germany



In the 1960s the Rhine River was known as “the sewer of Europe,” its water unsafe to drink or swim in. In 1966, a stray beluga whale swam up and down the Lower Rhine for several weeks and quickly became a media celebrity. The whale developed dark patches on its white skin and the population became increasingly worried about the whale’s well-being. The whale helped to raise awareness of the water pollution in this heavily industrialized region. In the following decades the Rhine was constantly improved and is today one of the cleanest rivers in Europe.

Author Biography

Katrin Kleemann, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, LMU Munich, Germany

Katrin Kleemann is a doctoral candidate at the Rachel Carson Center / LMU Munich in Germany, she studies environmental history and geology. Her doctoral project investigates the Icelandic Laki fissure eruption of 1783 and its impacts on the northern hemisphere. She holds a master’s degree in early modern history and a bachelor’s degree in history and cultural anthropology. Katrin receives a doctoral fellowship from the Andrea von Braun Stiftung. She also is the social media editor for the Climate History Network and HistoricalClimatology.com.