ORCA by Jason M. Colby


How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean's Greatest Predator
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The history of Orcinus orca, from its days as both a cultural icon of the Pacific Northwest and a dangerous pest to marine fishermen and whalers to stardom as a performer at marine theme parks.

Environmentalist Colby (History/Univ. of Victoria; The Business of Empire: United Fruit, Race, and U.S. Expansion in Central America, 2011, etc.) reports on one species and concentrates on one brief period of time, in contrast to Nick Pyenson’s Spying on Whales, which looks with a scientist’s eye at whales of all kinds in the distant past, present, and possible future. Colby’s story is also focused on the human relationships with orcas. His history is filled with the names of the men who attempted to capture killer whales, those who met with increasing success, the entrepreneurs who capitalized on whales, and the names of the whales that were caught. Readers will meet Namu, Kandu, Skanda, Taku, Haida, Chimo, and, perhaps the most famous one of all, Shamu (a name given to many after the original). For decades, catching and selling whales was big business, and as captive display animals at places like Sea World, killer whales became public favorites for their spectacular performances and their strikingly handsome black-and-white coloration. Captivity also meant that scientists could study orcas in ways not previously possible. By the 1970s, the environmental movement had become a subject of mainstream politics, and activists took up the issue of whale conservation. The author delves into the conflicts over regulation as protestors tangled with businesses, scientists with fisherman, and fishermen with government officials. Anecdotes abound. The cast of characters is enormous, and readers may find themselves struggling to keep the names straight.

A good choice for serious fans of Pacific Northwest and marine history but information overload for mere lovers of all the Shamus and their ilk.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-19-067309-3
Page count: 392pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2018


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