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Science entwines with matters of the human heart as a whale researcher chronicles the lives of an endangered family of orcas.

A question we all eventually face is whether we have the courage to love someone or something when we know we are going to lose them. In Eva Saulitis’s case, her answer is a resounding yes.

At twenty-three, as an idealistic college graduate, Saulitis drove to Alaska to work in a remote salmon hatchery. There, on a winter day, she saw her first orca. Over the next twenty years, as she found her footing as a biologist, she was drawn deeply into the lives of a unique and endangered orca population struggling to survive in Prince William Sound. She came to know and love the whales as a culture and as individuals. In 1989, she witnessed first-hand the devastation wrought by the Exxon Valdez oil spill-after which not a single calf was born to the group.

With the intellectual rigor of a scientist and the heart of a poet, Saulitis renders the whales’ secretive lives, as well as the abundant life of the waters-the birds, seals, and otters with whom the orcas share their world. Vividly she conveys the whales’ personalities, from the matriarch Chenega and her companions to the trio of mischievous “Bad Boys,” and the majestic Eyak, who sang like a siren.

In the wake of the recent BP oil spill, we still don’t know what the long-term effects on marine life might be. From the vantage of over twenty years dealing with the aftermath of the Valdez spill, Saulitis shows how a group of shy orcas carrying out their lives in a remote corner of Alaska have something to teach us about our connectedness to animals to place-and what we stand to lose if we don’t protect both.

Both an elegy for one orca family and a celebration of a species Into Great Silence speaks for all vanishing species in an increasingly vulnerable natural world.
Published: Beacon Press on
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