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Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us

4.47  ·  Rating details ·  661 ratings  ·  67 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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Jan 20, 2013 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
Jul 15, 2011 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 05, 2009 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.
Peter Beck
Dec 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“Listening to Whales” is the beautiful story of one woman’s quest to study the mysterious apex predator of the deep: Orcas, otherwise known by the misnomer “killer whales” and pejorative “blackfish.” Her research takes her on an adventure to an isolated cove north of Vancouver Island where she uncovers the secret life of these smart and exquisite creatures.

It is not an exaggeration to call Alexandra Morton the Jane Goodall of orcas. Both enter forbidding environments alone to undertake pioneeri
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
Edwina Harvey
May 28, 2014 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
Sep 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone- especially those who are interested in marine biology.
Recommended to Kogiopsis by: Mom
Shelves: nonfiction, reviewed
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
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An absolute must read for anyone interested in killer whales or mankind’s impact on our world, especially in our oceans. This book was just powerful and passionate. If it lacked a little in hardcore scientific fact, it more than made up for it in heart. I definitely learned things about whales, marine parks, and fish farming history than I had never known before.
Kim. E.
"I do have hope. Nature is enormously resilient. Humans are vastly intelligent, the energy and enthusiasm that can be kindled among young people seems without limit, and the human spirit is indomitable. But if we want life, we will have to stop depending on someone else to save the world. It is up to us - you and me, all of us. Myself, I have placed my faith in the children."
- Jane Goodall to Alexandra Morton at a conference when Morton asked her if there was any hope for these animals

I'm an ani
Mar 27, 2014 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
Tehniyat Khan
Jul 05, 2014 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 abo ...more
Michelle Webster
May 22, 2015 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 farms. ...more
Aug 08, 2012 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.

Apr 16, 2012 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.
Timothy Schneider
Oct 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have read this book multiple times - and just finished rereading it. It is compelling and wondrous and heartbreaking. More to come...
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
Roxanne Hawkin
Nov 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Alexandra Morton is like the Jane Goodall of Orcas. She herself was inspired by Jane Goodall at a very early age and subsequently followed her passions and interest, which led her to leave school early, cross from the east coast of the US to the west in a quest to study dolphins - which ultimately led her to the study of Orcas, first those kept in tanks in captivity at Marineland in San Diego and soon after, their brethren in the wild, which then leads to a life in the far northwest of Canada’s ...more
Mar 07, 2011 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 profoun
Aug 28, 2007 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
Mar 12, 2014 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 r ...more
Oct 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle, orca-books
Wow. This book is absolutely amazing. If you enjoy reading about Orcas at all, then this book is for you. Morton has an excellent sense of style in her writing that makes it easy to read and easy to connect with the struggles she faces in trying to preserve the very land and ecosystem she loves. The more non-fiction I read, the most horrified I am at the terrible things we've allowed to happen to the only place we have to live. We may be the so-called dominant species on the planet, but man, we ...more
Apr 09, 2014 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 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 25, 2013 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.
Jenifer Pruim
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book. Interesting. Inspiring. Fascinating accounts of orcas and the impact of humans over and over again on orcas in captivity and orcas in the wild. Wonderfully weaved with her life from childhood through raising her own family. Learning about the impact of the salmon farms and their rapid and uncaring devastation on the ecosystem was illuminating.
May 23, 2010 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 rated it it was amazing
What a book and what a determined lady!!!
Wonderful, fascinating and in parts hearth-wrenching memoir of a field biologist working with killer whales.

Two take-aways from this book for everyone:
- Boycott SeaWorld and any other park that hold dolphins and whales captive. While you're at it, don't drink (American) Budweiser, cause the owner of the brewery also owns SeaWorld.
- Don't eat fish coming from aqua farms. I already knew that the feces of the fish pose problems for the sea with algae blooms etc., but I had NO IDEA how bad the fa
Jun 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Alexandra Morton takes us on a journey of discovery in “Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us” for herself and for us. Morton tells a moving story highlighting what she has learned about the natural world and herself and she shares her discoveries and insights with us. We are the better for it and hopefully the wonderful wild spaces she describes will be better too. Morton writes beautifully, eloquently, and in a gentle but firm manner. She has discovered great truths in her encount ...more
Nimitha T.R.
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A memoir about the author's life as an orca researcher and later as an environmental activist. I'd have preferred an academic book, but this still gives valuable tidbits about orcas. Writing is simple and precise. An enjoyable read.
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