Spirits of the Coast: Orcas in Science, Art and History

Edited by Martha Black, Lorne Hammond, Gavin Hanke, with Nikki Sanchez

Killer Whales, sea wolves,  blackfish…orcas have been called many names over the years.  I have been fortunate to see them from land and on the sea. Witnessing the magnificence of orcas from a kayak, dinghy, and ferry is a magical experience. I will never forget hearing the sounds of orcas passing by in the night when camping on a small island in Johnstone Strait.  As a child in the 1970s and 80s I recall visiting the Vancouver Aquarium and seeing orcas perform for large crowds, which brought about the conflicting feelings of delight and doom. 

Spirits of the Coast is a book that has deepened my appreciation for orcas of British Columbia. Although they are found worldwide, this book mainly focuses on the orcas of the Salish Sea. Spirits of the Coast is filled with information about these majestic mammals. There are articles written by scientists such as David Suzuki, but viewpoints of others are also included.  Steve Huxter, a former trainer at the now defunct Victoria aquarium shares his experience of transformation from a naive whale trainer to orca protector and environmentalist.  Jess Housty, an Heiltsuk citizen, describes her childhood experience with orcas, and the kinship her nation shares with them.  Traditional Indigenous stories describing the interconnectedness of people and orcas are interspersed with beautiful artwork.  Orca carvings, ocean scenes and the drawings of children can be found throughout the book. A wide array of photographs are included that depict orcas both in captivity and in the wild. 

Spirit of the Coast’s three parts: Connection, Captivity and Consciousness invoke a sense of responsibility to preserve the orca’s environment and advocate for the critically endangered species. Only 74 of the Salish Sea’s resident orcas remain. Environmental educator Nikki Sanchez writes that she hopes that the book serves as “an invitation to fall in love, in awe, with these incredible marine mammals so that we can come together to protect them.”  Martha Black, Lorne Hammond and Gavin Hanke are curators at the Royal BC Museum. Serving as the book’s editors, They have incorporated their areas of expertise to contribute to the creation of this fascinating and important book.

Purchase at Royal BC Museum online store (also available elsewhere.)

Categories: Book Reviews


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