Spirits of the Coast: Orcas in science, art and history – Martha Black (ed), Lorne Hammond (ed), Gavin Hanke (ed), Nikki Sanchez (ed) – The Royal British Columbia Museum – Published 15 May 2020




Spirits of the Coast brings together the work of marine biologists, Indigenous knowledge keepers, poets, artists, and storytellers, united by their enchantment with the orca. Long feared in settler cultures as “killer whales,” and respected and honored by Indigenous cultures as friends, family, or benefactors, orcas are complex social beings with culture and language of their own. With contributors ranging from Briony Penn to David Suzuki, Gary Geddes and Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, this collection brings together diverse voices, young and old, to explore the magic, myths, and ecology of orcas. A literary and visual journey through past and possibility, Spirits of the Coast illustrates how these enigmatic animals have shaped us as much as our actions have impacted them, and provokes the reader to imagine the shape of our shared future.

My thoughts

As a lover of all thing orca I knew I just had to read this book. And it was beautiful from cover to cover. There are many books out there about orcas, from introductory marine science books for kids to exposés about orcas in captivity. Spirits of the Coast captures all of that, as well as the elements I have often found to be missing from previous books, most notably that of an indigenous perspective. Through stories, poems, retellings, drawings, photographs, sculpture, museum exhibits, reflections, and articles, Spirits of the Coast captures a wide perspective on the amazing orcas and their history of interactions with humans. From the heartbreaking and despairing to the hopeful and uplifting, Spirits of the Coast is a powerful compendium.

Spirits of the Coast is divided into three main sections: Connection, Captivity and Consciousness. Throughout each, the power and magnificence of the orca is clearly portrayed. There is respect and awe and it seeps through every word, photograph and artwork.

At all times this is a book about orcas from a human perspective. That perspective spans many generations, cultures, opinions and angles. I loved that it contains many works of art, stories, and retellings from an indigenous perspective. Other books on orcas and their interactions with humans often neglect this perspective. It is so important.

As I read the foreword I discovered that Spirits of the Coast is a companion to the Royal BC Museum’s 2020 feature exhibition Orcas: Our Shared Future. I talked myself out of immediately booking myself a plane ticket (can’t justify the waste of out planet’s resources to fuel my own desire to be there in person) and contented myself with reading this book from cover to cover. It’s a wonderful and heartbreaking journey. As they so often do, the stories about orcas in this book brought me to tears and the poignant history is both informative and captivating. The contributors to this book vary greatly and come from a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives, including scientists, first nations peoples, museum curators, photographers, historians, artists and more. Yet, despite the investigation of the past, like the exhibit, this book points to the future and the importance of the orca’s role in it.

Spirits of the Coast is perfect for historians, researchers, museum visitors or lovers of orcas.

The publishers provided an advanced readers copy of this book for reviewing purposes. All opinions are my own.

More information

Category: Non-fiction

Subjects: Orcas, animals, marine life, mammals, indigenous perspectives, nature, history, art, photography.

Published: 15 May 2020 by The Royal British Columbia Museum

Format: Hardcover. 216 pages.

ISBN: 9780772677686

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