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Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us Paperback – June 1, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345442881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345442888
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #204,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Orca researcher Morton describes her more than 20 years studying the movements and sounds of orcas, the mammals, actually dolphins, commonly known as killer whales, or, regionally, blackfish. After getting her ears wet cataloguing the recordings John Lilly (the author of Man and Dolphin) made of his controversial language experiments with dolphins, Morton turned her own hydrophone on the captive orca pair Orky and Corky, at the now closed Marineland of the Pacific in Palos Verde, Calif. Inspired by Jane Goodall as an important but rare model, she soon decided to find wild orcas to record launching her lifelong study of the animals in the coastal waters of British Columbia. She has faced down the inherent difficulty of finding the elusive creatures she studies, the periodic economic uncertainty of life in a remote place and the death of her husband in a diving accident. Throughout her warm, energetic memoir, she relates her work to the strides made by other marine biologists, consistently balancing her open curiosity about the vagaries of mother nature with solid scientific inquiry. In later chapters, her focus turns to the impact of salmon farms on the coastal ecosystem. Morton's rich descriptions of individual orca movements, and how each relates to the species as a whole, course alongside her passionate defense of the ecological balance of the region; she infuses both with just the right amount of personal reflection to make this an engaging tale of a woman's commitment to science and a life well lived.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Morton has spent nearly 20 years studying the language and behavior of the orcas, or killer whales, that roam the waters of British Columbia. The author of two children's books on whales, she is a field scientist in the tradition of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. Although she does not possess an academic degree in science, she writes eloquently of the orcas' social groupings, strong mother-child bonds, migration patterns, and interactions with humans. Morton also graphically describes the effects of fish farming, logging, development, and whale-watching expeditions on the environment. Her book is primarily of value as an autobiographical document of a determined and highly self-motivated woman rather than a work of scientific popularization like Serge Dedina's Saving the Gray Whale or Dick Russell's Eye of the Whale. Readers will be impressed by the physical hardships of field work, the moving account of the death of her marine photographer husband in a diving mishap, and her stories of rearing her children on shipboard and in an isolated coastal community. Suitable for all public libraries. Judith B. Barnett, Pell Marine Science Lib., Univ. of Rhode Island, Kingston
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 47 customer reviews
I couldn't put this book down once I started reading it.
Alexandra Morton's book, "Listening to Whales" is a fantastic story of how she came to study and love dolphins and killer whales.
Dana R. Zakshevsky
I highly recommend this book for people who loves orcas..but also for those who are interested in marine mammal photography.
Lynn M.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Alexandra Morton learns from listening to whales. It is surprising to think that only a few decades ago, no one had studied, much less made commercial recordings of, the voices of whales. Some, like the eccentric researcher John C. Lilly, had made much of the vocalizations of dolphins, but we knew a lot more about the animals who sang in the air where we could hear them. Morton has written about her scientific career in _Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us_ (Ballantine Books). There is a good deal of scientific information in it, often understated and certainly not with the sort of detail Morton must use in her papers. She can specify that orcas do not use a single sound to match a single behavior, for instance; it is the frequency of the sound that makes a difference, signaling tranquility or the need for a pod to change direction. Resident orcas, near the shore, could be vocal and splashy, because the fish on which they feed have not learned to listen for them. Transient orcas, traveling the seas and living on alert mammals that pay attention to sounds of danger, have evolved to be quieter and more stealthy.
There's plenty of general science in the book, about how orcas fish, mate, socialize, and raise families. But Morton's volume is one in a series of an appealing subgenre of memoir, that of the woman scientist. She was a high school dropout because she wanted to do research on mice more than doing regular studies. She chanced upon a job with maverick dolphin investigator, John C. Lilly, and then went on to do sound studies on orcas in tanks at Marineland. In 1979, she began to listen to orcas in the wild, using hydrophones originally developed to track submarines.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Neil Frazer on May 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the autobiography (so far) of whale researcher Alexandra Morton who came to the remote Broughton Archipelago in 1984 to study orcas and was herself woven by nature into the warp and woof of that amazing place. While telling a fascinating story the book imparts a great deal of knowledge in so painless a manner that we hardly notice. We learn, for example, that there are three kinds of orcas: "residents," who eat mostly fish; "transients" who eat mostly seals and sea lions; and "offshores" who--nobody knows for sure--may well eat mostly sharks. Though whales, both captive and free, are the stars of this story, the real star is the Broughton itself with its myriad islands and channels, its sunny summer breezes and howling winter storms. With so few people living in the Broughton, the BC government pillages its islands with clearcuts, and both levels of government cooperate to pollute its waters with open netcage salmon farms. Courageous residents fight a running battle to protect the wild coast and wild fish they love from the blindness of bureaucrats and the greed of multinational corporations. This wonderful story, which is all true, will make you cry for the ocean, and at the same time renew your hope in the power of courageous people to change the world. If you have a kayak, go and paddle through the Broughton that Alexandra and her friends are fighting to save for us. You might even be able to help.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nina Marie on November 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
'Listening to Whales' was a touching story of how a women's life was enchanted through her passion for marine life. We follow the author, Alexandra Morton, through her life and career- which often go hand in hand- as she evolved as a marine scientist and a woman devoted to her love: the orcas. We are taken from her first job as an acoustics expert in Marineland to her more profound passion which is to examine the killer whales in their natural habitat; the open ocean. This book was not only captivating, but as I read through it I learned so many fun facts about orcas and dolphins and the life of a marine enthusiast.

My favorite aspect of the book was the way she explained how her extreme passion for orcas came to be. I loved learning about how her love for marine life evolved from her love of frogs and grew from there. I find it so fascinating that as a small child something like loving frogs has evolved for decades and turned into her fulltime career. It proved how dedicated she has been to her work for so long and how there is constantly so much more to learn. I loved how she dedicated her young life to follow her dream, and this story showed how far you can come if you are persistent and dedicated.

There wasn't any specific part of the book I didn't like. It was a story of this brilliant woman's dreams and stories, I don't think anyone is to say there was something wrong with it; it's an unedited, unchangeable story of her life. I think she had a good balance of her life-stories and experiences and her knowledge and history of her life with the whales. I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in marine life or anyone who has a passion that they want to persue. It's a very inspiring story, which makes the book good for almost anyone.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Blake Wright on May 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is captivating and engaging. There were times I couldn't put it down. I purchased this book because my 7-year old daughter is very interested in whales. After reading particular sections of the book, I would tell her the whale-stories inside (such as the differences between the three kinds of orca groups: resident, transient, and off-shores) Together we learned a lot. I expect to return to this book several times over the next few years to read its stories and re-evaluate its contents. It has certainly become the launching pad for further exploration about orca whales.

Although I quite enjoyed this book and strongly recommend it, I found myself wanting more scientific information than was provided. I would like to know more about the sounds of whales and communication techniques. Nevertheless, this book is part autobiography and part adventure. Ms. Morton has done much to shed light on just how far we have come in researching whales and other sea creatures. I really appreciated the acknowledgement of her mixed feelings about researching captive whales, where she personally benefited in her own research, and the necessity to keep these truly awesome creatures in the wild with their family pods. After reading this book, I realize just how important it is to NOT keep orca in pens for public enjoyment and entertainment. I also appreciated her views on conservation, and found her information on fish farms to be very insightful.

Overall, I found myself becoming much more emotionally involved with this book than I would like to admit. A very good read.
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