Our Complex Relationship With Killer Whales Explained: You Will Want This Book

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“Recovering our humanity may be the real gift of the orcas, what they can teach us. It’s our choice whether to listen”. David Neiwert
In his latest book, Of Orcas and Men, What Killer Whales Can Teach Us author David Neiwert weaves together insights from scientists, cultural anthropologists, psychologists, writers, and artists all of whose lives have been touched in a meaningful way by killer whales.
The facts are presented clearly, and while Neiwert doesn’t flinch from recounting the truth of the woes we have heaped upon the whales and their environment, neither does he belabor the points.  He looks at what our ancient ancestors did that kept us in balance with nature, examines what we have done as our cultures evolved – and then he presents a strong case for re-aligning our priorities.

Photo Credit: David Neiwert
Photo Credit: David Neiwert

Neiwert has spent much of his free time over the last 25 years doing what many people who live in the region do – watching the orcas from shore or boats, planning vacations around whale watching – so his perspective is easy to relate to. And while some of his experiences at first seem enviably rare and personal, he makes it clear that anyone willing to make the effort to see the orcas will have their own unique and often thrilling experience.
It is in our nature to want to capture what captivates us – from a vase of flowers to big whales in small tanks, we want to hold tightly onto what is by its nature impermanent, and by so doing we take away the essential being of what we admire.
In the past, we really didn’t discriminate much – if we wanted something, we took it. If something was perceived to compete with our interests we did our best to wipe it off the planet. We have done both to killer whales.
Neiwert’s message is simply that we step back and consider what we are doing, that we understand that there is a difference between growing roses for our vases and breeding orcas for our amusement, that we look at their place in the natural world and take our lessons from them there. Humanity needs to (and may well be starting to) step outside of our own anthropocentric world view and to acknowledge that we are not the only intelligent beings on the planet, and by doing so we will feel our full humanity.
The book’s title is evocative of Steinbeck’s classic novel Of Mice and Men, a story about a search for deeper understanding of each other. Neiwert simply extends the bast theme to include the other intelligent species that share our planet.

In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.
John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry

Of Orcas and Men is a book that belongs on everyone’s bookshelf, as both a basic primer on orcas and a thought provoking guide for readers who will feel empowered to take their own unique skills and viewpoints to make changes while there is still time.
Because, as Neiwert wrote, our very humanity may be at stake.
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David Neiwert is an investigative journalist and author based in Seattle. He is the senior editor of Crooks and Liars and has won a National Press Club award for his reportage on domestic terrorism. Photo Credit: AreJay West

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