Beauties and Beasts: Whales in Portugal, from Early-Modern Monsters to Today’s Flagship Species



Among the general population in most Westernized societies—Portugal included—there is today a consensus about the positive value attributed to whales and their great ecological importance. But throughout history, whales have been portrayed as strange and contradictory marine animals. Sometimes considered monstrous and frightening, at other times as valuable or beautiful, whales figure in the imaginary, myths, practices, and uses of different human cultures across the globe and in different time periods. Even to this day, as they are largely seen as true conservation icons of the oceans, they still are paradoxical. The past and present of whales in Portugal and their relationship to human activities and perceptions are here presented.

Author Biography

Cristina Brito, CHAM (Centro de Humanidades), Nova FCSH, Portugal

Cristina Brito has a PhD in History of the Portuguese Discoveries and Expansion, NOVA FCSH (2005–2010), with a background in Ethology, ISPA (1998–2000) and in Biology, FCUL (1993–1998). She was awarded a Research Contract by FCT (IF/00610/2015) at CHAM, NOVA FCSH to investigate “Cow-fish, Ngulu-Maza or Iguaragua? Local and Global Knowledge Production, Changing Perceptions and Practices on Marine Animals in the Atlantic, 1419–1758” (2016–2021). Cristina Brito has an interdisciplinary, comparative, and cross-cultural approach to her research. Her scientific interests include early modern marine environmental history, local and global perceptions and uses of the seas, and Atlantic and ocean history. She is the Executive Director of OPI, Oceans Past Initiative (2014–2018), a member of the Management and Synthesis Committees, and working group leader at OPP – Oceans Past Platform, EU COST Action (2014–2018). She also coordinates a thematic line of research at CHAM (the Sea), the UNESCO Chair on Oceans’ Cultural Heritage, and the H2020 RISE project CONCHA (2018–2021).