LISTENING TO WHALES by Alexandra Morton


What the Orcas Have Taught Us
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Marine mammal researcher Morton, who’s been on the hydrophone listening closely to dolphins and killer whales for 25 years, reports on her work and life among the orcas thus far.

Morton’s association with marine mammals began under the guidance of John Lilly, perhaps best known for his dabbling with LSD, though he was also a pioneering, unconventional scientist working with dolphins. Those days not only fired within her a desire to pursue marine mammal vocalization studies, but it also opened doors to the insular world of cetacean research, a field in which Morton has no advanced degree and as such is often branded an untouchable. She worked in California with captive creatures, concentrating on the correlation between sounds and behavior, before realizing that her interests lay in work with wild animals: it was more vigorous, certainly; it also soothed her conscience, for she had begun to appreciate captivity to be a dreadful state for an orca. In plainspoken prose, Morton relates her work afield, eventually moving to Canada and concentrating on differentiation between transient and resident populations of orcas. She writes of her personal life with unembroidered ease as well, which is extremely powerful when telling the story of the death of her husband and co-worker Robin, who drowned. The tone is equally effective when spinning out less traumatic anecdotes, as when she and her husband—running through bad weather in their skiff, their cameras being kept dry in big green garbage bags—are targeted by the Mounties as drug-runners. Her concern for the orcas’ welfare leads her to investigate pollution of their habitat and in particular the degradation of their food source, part of which is identified as the damage done to wild stocks of salmon by the penned salmon of aquaculturists, the old bugbear of wild vs. captive rearing its head once more.

A work in progress, but remarkably diverting if even so short a distance down Morton’s road.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-345-43794-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2002


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