Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

July 10, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

GONE WHALING: A Search for Orcas in Northwest Waters by Douglas Hand (Simon & Schuster: $20; 223 pp.) "I live in New York City now and I like it here," writes Douglas Hand, "but I have to tell you this story." That's his opening sentence, and he keeps up the combination of simplicity, humility and humor all the way through. Hand's trail, which begins with a killer whale totem pole carved by a Haida indian in the American Museum of Natural History, spent God knows how many months asking total strangers why they were driven to make whales the focus of their life's work, be it science or wood carving. My take on it is that Hand was driven to the whales because the whale is his totem animal and his spirit animal. He would probably laugh. I practically did writing it, but there it is. He never once says anything of the kind, but he is led so uncoincidentally from one storyteller to another, and is able to come at our fascination with orcas from so many different angles. Why killer whales? he asks each person he interviews. After a litany of reasons given to him by one scientist, from their wildness to their power, Hand responds: "You could also just say, they eat until they're full. Then they stop." Why killer whales? Hand asks Dr. Murray Newman, director at the Vancouver Public Aquarium. "It's a very symbolic animal," Newman replies blandly. Doug Ford, curator of marine mammals and an expert on killer-whale communication, keeps a similar distance. "Are they being creative when they make up a new call?" Hand asks. "Creative? No," says Ford. Hand visits Ken Balcomb, head of the Center for Whale Research, also in Vancouver, where he sees his first whales close up. "Did you have a good encounter?" one of the volunteers asks him. "I hadn't felt the illumination," Hand responds honestly, "I hadn't crossed the line." "To us," says Sam, a Nimpkish Indian Hand meets on a ferry, "they're people. . . . All animals can transform themselves to human form. They're very much like us. It has enough food, so it's a very good life. It's a sensual life. I think that's the way the Nimpkish used to live." Food was always very plentiful, so we had time to play." Back in New York, reflecting on the Haida carving, Hand wonders: "Where does one creature end and the other begin?"

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|