Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean's Greatest Predator, by Jason M. Colby (author), Paul Heitsch (narrator)

Highbridge Audio, ISBN 9781684415533, January 2019

Orcas are the most popular, profitable, and of course, controversial, animals on display in history. The controversy stems largely from the fact that captivity is objectively horrible for orcas. They're large, intelligent, and highly social. They live in large, matrilineal family groups, who live near other, related family groups whom they socially interact with. There's no way we can provide a truly appropriate habitat for orcas in captivity. When captured, they lose their entire families, their entire social group, they lose the auditory stimulation that's a normal part of their world, they're forced to change their diets to what we can feed them, and they are confined to what are rceally unbearably small spaces for orcas. The more people learn about this, the more people want no more orcas in captivity.

But why do we love orcas? Why do we care so much? Until the 1960s, orcas, far from beloved, were regarded as vicious animals, and as pests that ate the salmon, other fish species, and seals, that fishermen and other commercial industries depended on. Whaling was also still a large and uncontroversial industry, and if orcas weren't a major target species, they were considered a perfectly acceptable catch for some purposes. They were actively killed by fishermen, scientists, and the government.

Scientists studied orcas, but they only studied dead orcas. Everything they knew came from disecting orcas, and a major interest was what they ate, because that mattered to the fishing industry.

What changed?
In 1965, Seattle entrepreneur Ted Griffin became the first person to swim and perform with a captive orca. The show was wildly popular, and he began capturing and selling more orcas, including Sea World's first Shamu. Orcas performing with humans where the general public could see them. Orcas in captivity also allowed scientists to study live orcas, and increased interest in orcas in the wild, in their natural habitat and social groups.

Jason Colby gives us a loving, detailed, revelatory history of how captive orcas changed both popular and scientific understanding of orcas, their true natures, and their role in the environment. He draws this information from official records, private archives, interviews, and his own family history, and the result is informative and compelling.


I bought this audiobook.

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