Book Review of “Orca: How We Came to Know and …

Book Review of “Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator

Jason M. Colby’s newly released book documents the historical killer whale captures in the Pacific Northwest of the 60s and 70s, as well as subsequent captures in the 80s in Iceland. 

The topic itself is not new; there are several other books that highlight this subject, such as “Puget Sound Whales for Sale” and “Of Orcas and Men,” but Colby’s book adds new (and sometimes gruesome) details about the captures and includes new interviews with the men who orchestrated them. One particularly hard to read account comes from Jeff Foster, who aided with some of the first killer whale captures in Iceland:

“Roger de la Grandiére, a French collector for Marineland Of Antibes near Nice, netted a female orca off the coast of Iceland. Without the experience and equipment to handle her, however, his crew lifted the animal by the tail and broke her back.”

Additionally, Colby does not focus on present day conflicts of killer whale captivity and instead aims solely to present the historical records of captures and the impacts they had. What sets his book apart from the others is perhaps its message and in-depth interviews with the man who started killer whale captivity–Ted Griffin. Griffin was the man who acquired Namu, the third killer whale in captivity and arguably the one who set off the world’s love for killer whales. 

After Namu died, Griffin and his partner, Don Goldsberry, went on to capture dozens of killer whales for parks around the world, such as SeaWorld and several now defunct marine parks. They killed many in the capture process (including calves) and in some instances, they attempted to hide the bodies by slitting their bellies and weighing them down so they would sink. For these reasons, Griffin is often vilified and hated by those who care about killer whales. 

However, through rare interviews with Griffin, Colby tries to highlight a new side of him: a caring man who loved killer whales and just wanted to share them with the world. Colby argues that without these captures, however terrible and cruel they were, the world would never have come to adore killer whales and give them the iconic status they enjoy today. 

For those of us who do not agree with captivity, this is a hard to fact to face. It is true that without captivity, we may still be shooting and killing killer whales for fun and out of fear. Captivity changed our perspective on these creatures and showed the world they are not dangerous man-eaters as once thought. Personally, I am against killer whale captivity, but acknowledge these early captures were vital in changing the perspective on killer whales. However, I still do not view Griffin favorably; though the author tries to show us he is not the evil heartless man as he is so often portrayed to be, it is difficult for me to reconcile his apparent love for killer whales with the suffering and cruelty he knowingly and willingly inflicted upon them. 

This is a good book for anybody interested in killer whales, and especially those who are involved in the debate over killer whale captivity.