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Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us
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Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us

4.4  ·  Rating Details ·  399 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
In Listening to Whales, Alexandra Morton shares spellbinding stories about her career in whale and dolphin research and what she has learned from and about these magnificent mammals. In the late 1970s, while working at Marineland in California, Alexandra pioneered the recording of orca sounds by dropping a hydrophone into the tank of two killer whales. She recorded the var ...more
Paperback, 328 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by Ballantine Books (first published 2002)
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May 20, 2015 Caroline rated it liked it
Shelves: animals
This is the autobiography of a woman researching killer whales. I am not a great fan of biographies, and didn't enjoy reading about her got more interesting once she got into whales, and I found the romance of her life on the coast of British Columbia attractive. She relished her life on the edge of the ocean, and her enthusiasm is catching. Most of all I was interested to learn about the whales, and her final chapters on salmon farming were fascinating too, if rather repulsive. ...more
Sep 24, 2011 Angela rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! It's basically the life story of Alexandra Morton, how she came to be a killer whale (orca) researcher, the difficult life of living in the wild on the British Columbia coast, and the environmental concerns as fish farms and forestry services began to invade the area.
Really this book is so much more than just about whale research.
Reading this inspired me in a different kind of way than when reading Jane Goodall's books because different environmental nightmares are brought t
Aug 06, 2009 Gustine rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and must-know history, science, and environmental issues, but with a focus on animals.

It is also, incidentally, an engrossing memoir with such a shocking event in the author’s life that I had to stop reading to absorb it.

Chapters 19 and 20, in particular, are MUST-READS. Everybody in this country, without exception, should carefully read and ponder these two chapters--they contain crucial information about salmon that everybody must be made aware of as soon as possible.
Edwina Harvey
May 28, 2014 Edwina Harvey rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in communication in whales or dolphins.
Recommended to Edwina by: found it in SMSA library. Read it and have now purchased a copy.
Listening to Whales: what the Orcas have taught us by Alexandra Morton, Ballantine Books 2002

I picked this book up because I’m a bit of a dolphin and whale geek, and because I’d seen the documentary, Black Fish, a few months previously and wanted to learn more about Orcas, but reading this book was like opening a treasure chest full of surprises.

Morton’s writing style is warm and friendly and easy to understand. She weaves her life story seamlessly into the text, more so because her life’s work
Okay. Whales might be the neatest thing on the face of the earth. And I might have to abandon my life to go watch them play in Blackfish Sound or Echo Bay or wherever they may wander…

The books that led me to orcas were all about SeaWorld and the inhumanity of captivity. Listening to Whales supports the anti-captivity argument by showing us what orca lives should look like; who orcas are without trainers and tanks and years of mindless, psychosis-inducing imprisonment.

My first and only sufficie
Apr 04, 2010 Kogiopsis rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone- especially those who are interested in marine biology.
Recommended to Kogiopsis by: Mom
Shelves: reviewed, nonfiction
Currently re-reading this book, partly because, well, I want to, and partly because I have an English project and it has to be on something nonfiction.
I remember why I love this memoir. It's scientific nonfiction written with a novelist's flair. Morton has talent. 'Course, her descriptions of incredibly difficult fieldwork make me wonder if I'll ever be up to doing the same kind of research- because marine mammal communication is what I want to study- but at the same time, her obvious reverence
Tehniyat Khan
Jul 05, 2014 Tehniyat Khan rated it it was amazing
I started reading this book as something to fill my time, a book I could read a bit to go to sleep quickly. But Alexandra Morton's adventures and experiences with the whales ended up keeping me up half the night trying to finish the book! Even though it starts off as a biography, I was quickly swept into the world of underwater animals: dolphins, porpoises, whales, salmon, seals! The sights and sounds that she describe are thrilling, and in entering her world, we're confronted with questions ...more
Michelle Webster
May 22, 2015 Michelle Webster rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cetaceans
This is a beautiful book full of ups and downs and moments that are chilling at times and magnificent at other times or both. Alexandra Morton's memior is unique and revealing of the earlier days of both captivity of orcas and dolphins, notably Orky & Corky, and of the early days in orca research. Then came salmon farms and everything changed. If you follow Alexandra Morton beyond the pages of this book you will find her as a salmon warrior lobbying the Canadian government against salmon ...more
Jul 29, 2014 Michelle rated it it was amazing
Amazing book!!! Orcas are fascinating animals and can really teach us a thing or two. Such an inspiring and terrifying tale, the Orcas are resilient but we are truly doing our best to kill them.

The last few chapters should be required reading for everyone on the planet! The harm that salmon farms are doing is disturbing! I have sworn off farm raised salmon for quite awhile now, but after this I can GUARANTEE I will never eat it again. It is diseased and disgusting and destroying the natural pop
Sep 01, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
Excellent!! A thoughtful account with a good mixture of heart and humility that makes for a fascinating story. The author introduces the reader to an unfamiliar species in an unfamiliar environment that has evolved to a place at the top of world's oceans. Highly recommended.

My only gibe is that Morton refers to "Gulls" - of which there are many species - as "Seagulls" of which there are None!! Could it be like me referring to her orcas as fish?? I guess that's just the Birder in me.

Jun 27, 2012 Nicole rated it it was amazing
Alexandra Morton does an excellent job relaying the knowledge she has gained on orca's through the telling of her life's story. This book is an easy read and continues to reveal knew information through out the whole book instead of pounding in the same information and stories over and over. I higly recommend this book to any whale lover, and anyone looking for information on the effects of salmon farming in Canadian waters.
Mar 07, 2011 Jane rated it it was amazing
"Listening to Whales" is a carefully observed, delightful, and heartbreaking work of research, science essays, and memoir braided into one. As a whale nut, this book introduced me to a deeper level of cetacean education (classification and observational methods, behavior & communication, relationships between & within a variety of species, and a history of research findings and individuals).

Morton also shares a shocking-- albeit emotionally restrained-- insight into the intelligence and
Dec 05, 2007 Mattie rated it it was amazing
Utterly fascinating. Listening to Whales is part personal memoir of a life far removed from what most of us will ever experience, part natural history of the areas around British Columbia, and part disquisition on the relationship between human beings and the ecosystems with which we share the planet. All of these various stories are vastly interesting in their own right. But most of all, this is the story of cetaceans - especially the orcas. And this story is amazing.

In 1995 I had the opportuni
Jul 21, 2014 Jami rated it it was amazing
Ms Morton, I envy you. You have the life I have dreamed of my entire life. There's nothing I'd rather do than to learn everything I can from whales. And she learned so much in the years she has spent with them. From her time spent researching dolphins and killer whales in captivity to her revelatory work done in the waters around Vancouver Island, Morton weaves a story of science with her life story. Well written, personal, and poignant. I loved every minute of my time with this book. As I was ...more
Jun 25, 2014 Angela rated it it was amazing
A good portion of the joy in reading this book, was in recognising many of the locations Morton researched from. It was wonderful to see my Vancouver Island (and surrounding islands) through her eyes.

Morton's voice is engaging and honest, and her lifetime of listening is very well laid out and easy to follow. I loved how she intertwined personal hurdles with the research, it made the memoir almost feel like it was written in real-time. I cannot really describe the reasons for enjoying this book
Dec 23, 2009 Kristi rated it it was amazing
i read this on a rubbing beach at the Johnstone Straight, BC, while taking a break from kaying with orcas. We had a hydrophone with us and could hear the ecolocation clicks...stunning. Reading this book and studying them up close proves how intelligent and social these mammals are, and how misunderstood. Awesome book to learn about Orcas with photos identifying the resident Orca families that migrate to the Johnstone Straight every summer.
Alan Dean
May 26, 2013 Alan Dean rated it it was amazing
The author's story of her journey from dolphin research to orca and salmon conservation on the pristine BC coast; a place now fighting for the survival of wild salmon and to prevent an incursion of oil pipelines and supertankers. A book that paints a vivid picture of a coastal wilderness which could inspire anyone to seek new ways to link with nature.
May 23, 2010 Shannon rated it it was amazing
I read this six years ago and I loved it then. It is a fascinating, attention grabbing, well written book filled with facts that have emotion behind them. I would recommend this book to anyone who has a love for marine mammals, specifically Killer Whales.
Santosh Manjhi
Jun 22, 2014 Santosh Manjhi rated it it was amazing
What a book and what a determined lady!!!
May 04, 2013 Katie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, favorites
Brings me back to my adolescence and my love of marine biology. This is what I based my dreams on.
Sep 19, 2014 Lauren rated it it was amazing
A truely beautiful read!
Katherine Pena
Jan 14, 2008 Katherine Pena rated it it was amazing
I am obsessed with Orcas so I loved this book, very informative...
Listening to Whales is insightful account of orcas along the coast of British Columbia, along with some of Morton's personal experiences. Morton also includes information on dolphins and salmon, amongst some other species. Overall I enjoyed Listening to Whales, but at times I felt it needed a better editor and a tighter focus on orcas.

The personal stories and some of the specific details of orca life were new to me but not the evils of SeaWorld and other places like it. Nor was the tragedy that
Todd Wilhelm
Aug 10, 2015 Todd Wilhelm rated it really liked it
A very good autobiography about Alexandra Morton, a woman who has spent most of her adult life studying orcas in the seas off the west coast of Canada.

""If Daddy's dead," he said, "how are they going to fix him?"His face completely expected good news. I could not give it to him. "They can't, Jarret. They can't.""

"I knew why mourners through the centuries had worn garments of anguish, rubbed ashes over their bodies, cut their hair. You want to tell the world, I am beyond happiness. It's both a wa
Jennifer Nelson
Jun 11, 2014 Jennifer Nelson rated it really liked it
Shelves: animals, 2014-books
This was another one of those books that I couldn't put down and all other books were neglected (usually I have five or six books going). The writing is excellent and the subject matter is very intriguing to me - tell me about sea mammals and you've got my complete attention. Combine a great subject with great writing and I'm sold.

The author mainly focuses on her orca communication research, which she conducted with killer whales in captivity as well as in the wild, recording the many and diver
Sep 17, 2013 Kate rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
I found this to be such an interesting read. It's all about Alaxandra Morton's life, from childhood, to studying captive dolphin and whale language, to her remote life on a bay in British Columbia. I found the parts about the captive Orca's hard to read at times. The section of the book where she was listening to Corky mourning the loss of her infant when it was taken away just about broke my heart. See Blackfish movie for more on Orca's in captivity. Her research on wild Orca language, hunting, ...more
Apr 03, 2012 Marian rated it really liked it
Alexandra Morton is firstly a scientist, not a writer. Given that, at times her writing is beautiful. This is a compelling account of her life, how she came to study whales on the west coast of British Columbia, and of the whales themselves. This book spoke to me personally because I lived through much of the story she is telling. I lived in Echo Bay, have traveled to many of the locales she speaks of. I remember seeing Skanna as a kid, and Miracle as a young adult. Their stories are real to me. ...more
Christopher Griffen
Mar 02, 2016 Christopher Griffen rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This book contains three narratives: Alexandra Morton's memoir, a wonderfully detailed description of her studies and interactions with orcas, and an account of her battles against corporate ecological abuses in British Columbia.

While I purchased the book primarily to read about the whales I must admit I was even more touched by Morton's personal experiences and moved by her fight against the salmon farms that threatened to ruin the coastal ecology of the region she called home. I was not disap
Aug 23, 2011 Julie rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I picked up this book right before spending a week camping and kayaking off Vancouver Island. Alexandra Morton has spent decades studying the vocalizations of Killer Whales. Her research has provided scientists with many insights on the behavior of Orcas. The book is filled with information on Orca behavior and society. Her stories about Killer Whales in captivity are heart wrenching and made me embarrassed for the way humans have treated these animals. The timing for reading this book was ...more
May 16, 2010 David rated it liked it
Recommended to David by: Mattie
A memoir from the 1970s and later of the wild and woolly days of behavioral and lingustic research into cetaceans and other large marine mammals, when the pioneers included a painter and an Esalen devotee and when knowledge lay with theme park employees as much as anyone else. Morton raises many interesting questions but provides few answers; her speculations often verge on anthropomorphism. She doesn't devote much space to the natural history of killer whales -- for that is not her interest. ...more
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