GONE WHALING: A Search for Orcas in Northwest Waters by Douglas Hand

GONE WHALING: A Search for Orcas in Northwest Waters

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Hand's book is less interested in whales than in the humans (including the author) who concern themselves with them. Freelance jounalist Hand's involvement with orcas begins, curiously enough, not with the real animal but with the carved totem poles of the Halda people of the Pacific Northwest displayed in the American Museum of Natural History. These images set him off on a quest to reel the animals in himself. Hand starts out in Vancouver, with a visit to the aquarium and its curator; he then hops from research center to research center, from habitat to habitat, meeting an assortment of whale-lover types. The conversations, landscapes, and attire of every individual are recorded meticulously; what this contributes to our understanding of whales is not clear. At a place called Telegraph Cove on the northern end of Vancouver Island, Hand meets Paul Spong, a renegade scientist from the Vancouver Aquarium and Greenpeace activist who rebels against what he sees as the futile capturing of wild orcas in favor of pioneering research into orca vision and intelligence conducted in the ocean. In this chapter, which raises the question of the existence of a whale ""language,"" Hand indulges in some pretty sloppy meditation on the nature of science--suggesting it naïvely assumes that there is some kind of predictable order to the universe (as if such a thing were totally out of the question). All in all, this kind of low-key moralizing and objection-raising grows as tiresome as the journalistic descriptions and the hymns to Haida wisdom, which are sometimes interesting but don't bring us a jot closer to whales. And when we actually come to see an orca, it is just for one tantalizing moment before we are plunged back into the fairly dull world of whale experts.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paramount