Jan 3, 2010

Killer Whales

by Sara Heimlich and James Boran

A short but really interesting book on orcas, or killer whales. Discusses their worldwide distribution, physical development, social life, communication, hunting skills, and fate in captivity. All in brief, but at the same time quite informative. Having never read anything about these marine mammals before (aside from a few National Geographic articles, perhaps) there was a lot to interest me. Did you know that there are two distinct groups of orcas that live in the Puget Sound area, some "resident" animals that have a fixed territory, others "transient" who travel through. The former hunt mainly fish, the latter mostly other oceanic mammals, like seals. Their differences have become so marked that scientists believe they are evolving into separate killer whale species. Some other intriguing facts I learned were that orcas have a similar life span to humans- females can live up to eighty years- and the young remain with their mothers for most of their life. They take a long time to mature, and adults actively teach younger whales specialized hunting skills. Their social organization is akin to that of apes or elephants in its complexity. Long vilified for their carnivorous nature, orcas have proven in captivity to be curious, playful, easily trained animals- learning faster and performing more reliably than their popular relatives the dolphins. (Not to say that there haven't been injuries and deaths caused by frustrated, aggressive whales- the book says they get easily stressed by living in confinement). Killer Whales was a tantalizing introduction for me; now I want to read more in depth about these fascinating animals and their three-dimensional aquatic world.

Rating: 3/5 ........  72 pages, 2001


bermudaonion said...

I'm fascinated with whales so this sounds interesting to me. I'd love to go on a whale watch.

Jeane said...

Bermudaonion- I've never been on a whale watch- I think I'd like it, too. The book suggests that even whale watches might be stressful to the animals, but I don't know if that's been studied much or not.

Susan said...

I was kissed by the killer whale in San Diego zoo back in the 1970's! they used to pick people out of the audience, and I was chosen. Very large mouth....but even more awesome for me is that I have always loved whales, killer whales and dolphins. I've seen grey whales on their migration between Baja California and Alaska, and plenty of dolphins when I lived on our sailboat (also in the 1970's). but I have never seen a killer whale outside of cativity! I have some books on whales, but not this one, so I'll be adding this to my collection. Lovely review, Jeanne!

Jeane said...

Susan- my husband is planning a vacation to Florida next year which will include Sea World- so I might just get kissed by a dolphin or some other cetacean! I'm so excited about it. I think you'll like this book.