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

The Official Description: Spirits of the Coast brings together the work of marine biologists, Indigenous knowledge keepers, poets, artists, and storytellers, united by their enchantment with the orca. Long feared in settler cultures as “killer whales,” and respected and honored by Indigenous cultures as friends, family, or benefactors, orcas are complex social beings with culture and language of their own. With contributors ranging from Briony Penn to David Suzuki, Gary Geddes and Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, this collection brings together diverse voices, young and old, to explore the magic, myths, and ecology of orcas. A literary and visual journey through past and possibility, Spirits of the Coast illustrates how these enigmatic animals have shaped us as much as our actions have impacted them, and provokes the reader to imagine the shape of our shared future.

Just the facts: A beautiful book about Orcas. Combines science, culture, and history.

This book is the perfect blend of science, history, art, folklore and culture. Orcas are a huge part of life on the west coast of Canada and Vancouver Island. The image of the Orca is ever-present. This book is a wonderful trip into the world of these magnificent creatures and what they have meant to us over time. – Kinzie Things

My thoughts bit: This book begins where it should, with a tale of supernatural Orcas told by GwaaGanad Diane Brown, Ts’aahl Eagle woman of the Haida Nation, to her daughter-in-law Kihlgula Gaay-ya Severn Cullis-Suzuki. Some young Haida men embarked on a hunting trip only to be lost at sea. They returned after three years with a tale of living in Japan, then having the privilege of being guided back to their home by the Orcas. With this story begins, a lovely book about Orcas and their interconnectedness to us.

This book is a collection of essays, stories, photos, and art. As one might expect from a book curated by the Royal BC Museum, this is a respectful, factual and beautiful account of Orcas. The written contributions cover a wide variety of topics: political discussions about the health and future of Orcas, their captivity for study, the distinctiveness of the BC Coastal Orca pods, multiple threats the whales face, stories told by Indigenous people.

One of the common themes of the Indigenous stories in the book is the connection that is felt between the Orca and the various peoples of the Coast. Agreements were made in the past with the Orcas to exist in harmony, the Orcas have saved Indigenous people who were in danger. there is a beautiful Haida story that reveals that Orcas are the “embodied souls of humans” who drowned at sea.

This book isn’t all history and science. There is a fascinating chapter on pop culture and the ongoing evolution of its relationship with the Orca. We have gone from hunting to watching them in captivity, to wanting to free them. The easily recognizable image of the Orca has been in films, books, TV shows, on baseball caps and lunch boxes. There are famous Orcas that we have embraced over the years, not all of whom have lived happily or in the wild. But we’ve always been intrigued by them.

This book would make a beautiful gift for someone with connections to the Salish sea, but it’s also amazing to read if you just love Orcas. This is such an interesting mix of stories, essays, photos, and artwork. I would gladly recommend this to any reader.

Links: Goodreads // The Author // The Publisher

I received an ARC of Spirits of the Coast: Orcas In Science, Art and History  edited by Martha Black, Lorne Hammond and Gavin Hanke with Nikki Sanchez from Royal BC Museum via Edelweiss in exchange for an unbiased review.

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