Wednesday, January 6, 1999

Gone Whaling: A Search for Orcas in Northwest Waters

by Douglas Hand

An account of the author’s quest for the culture of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest, and the root of our fascination with orcas.  He goes from a museum to an aquarium to a renegade scientist to Haida craftsmen who carve whales.  It’s quite a meticulously researched book: the histories of the museums, the histories of the native crafts, etc.  This erudition is a sideline, however, used to supplement the human side of the story, rather than overshadowing it.

It is a subtly written book, yet I don’t think it succeeds.  I didn’t see that Hand hit upon the essence of our fascination with orcas, if only because he eschews philosophy in favor of factual commentary.  A philosophy he does come near to espousing may be a Zen-like acceptance (he mentions Chuang Tzu), not analysis: the orca is mysterious and amazing, and this should be felt rather than said.  And yet he wrote a 200-page book about it.  I also did not care for what I saw as Hand’s ego, apparent in the writing: Hand did the sketches himself (they’re unremarkable), and he seems to feel the need to insult all his interlocutors’ appearances, citing their balding heads or discolored teeth.  What’s the deal with that? 

three stars

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