Mark Leiren-Young, The Killer Whale Who Changed the World

How did I not review this book as soon as I read it? Long story short: this reviewer says you need to read The Killer Whale Who Changed the World ASAP, and then you need to buy multiple copies to give away.

Mark Leiren-Young's 2016 book is a nonfiction account of the first orca in captivity, Moby Doll, who was captured accidentally in 1964 when a sculptor with a harpoon failed to kill him. It grew out of Leiren-Young's more than 20 years of research on Moby Doll and the southern resident orcas, which involved befriending some of the key human figures in the story, finding video in the CBC archives that hadn't been viewed since it was first broadcast in 1964, and writing probably dozens of related articles. The Killer Whale Who Changed the World is well researched and respectful even of very fine details, which as an academic I really appreciate. More than that, though, it's a warm and generous book full of memorable characters whose stories will likely change the way you think about whales, aquariums, and environmentalism.

The book won the 2017 Science Writers and Communicators Book Award, and just this month he won the Writers Guild of Canada documentary screenwriting award for his short film The Hundred-Year-Old Whale, about a whale named Granny who until her recent death was matriarch of BC's southern resident orcas.

I'm not going to say very much about the book, because tons of reviewers took their turns when it first came out. I'll list some of those below, but seriously just trust me, it's amazing, and also here's Leiren-Young explaining his passion for orcas on CBC's radio show The Current; here's an interview with him in The Tyee, an online site that should get even more attention than it does already; and here's an article he wrote for The Walrus that summarizes some of the book's themes and offers a glimpse at his characteristic warmth, insightfulness, and dogged research skills.

Some reviews:

  • "A superb and well-told history lesson spiced with sharp-witted asides" (Maclean's)
  • "a compelling compendium and a love letter to a threatened population that deserves your attention and affection" (Vancouver Sun)
  • "the average person will find it enjoyable, not just us history nerds" (Vancouver Is Awesome)
  • "certainly deserves a place on your nautical bookshelf" (Northwest Yachting)
  • less pleased with the book, the Animal Welfare Institute, who thinks that it's biased toward what hit calls "orca cowboys": I disagree, though I see why they'd argue that.

Seriously, I can't think of a BC nonfiction book about nature that I'd like to see distributed more widely than this one, or one that'd repay so many of its readers with both a pleasant and an educational reading experience.

Buy a copy for everyone who's ever seen an orca in captivity, or who has thoughts about captive whales.

Incidentally, Leiren-Young's also a good Twitter follow, and he has strong opinions about pipelines.

(I should say, too, that I was tempted to drop the last name throughout. Mark came to speak with Victoria's own Beer and Books book club, and he enjoyed the experience so much that he's become a regular member. So, feel free to consider this review biased, but it's not: TKWWCTW is just that good.)


Popular Posts