Magazine article American Scientist

A Life with Whales

Magazine article American Scientist

A Life with Whales

Article excerpt

A Life with Whales INTO GREAT SILENCE: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss among Vanishing Oreas. Eva Saulitis. xvi + 249 pp. Beacon Press, 2013. $26.95.

Naturalist and activist Susan Cerulean coined the phrase "origin moment" to describe points when our thinking is set on a new course. For Eva Saulitis, one such moment occurred at age 23 when, on break from a laborious job in a fish hatchery, she noticed a single orca in the tumultuous waters of Prince William Sound, Alaska. Into Great Silence, Saulitis's memoir, documents the 25 years she has spent studying oreas in the wild.

Saulitis's curiosity about the lone orca led her to get an M.S. in marine biology; she subsequently earned an M.F.A. in creative writing in order to better communicate what she was learning. Her life's work centers on a small group of oreas known as Chugach transients, which she studies each summer with her partner, a biologist. In eloquent prose, she recounts her training as a scientist, transporting readers to the stunningly beautiful shore of Whale Camp in Prince William Sound. The book is composed of 48 short chapters, many just a few pages long. Saulitis does not skimp on scientific detail - or on vivid storytelling. In Chapter 25, "Mercifully Untranslatable," she describes meeting a captive orca for the first time:

An orca's irises are blue. It's something you'd never know if you didn't see one like I did that night, from five feet away. ... I could count on one hand the number of times a wild orca had looked me in the eye. …

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