Science entwines with matters of the human heart as a whale researcher chronicles the lives of an endangered family of orcas
A question we all eventually face is whether we have the courage to love someone or something when we know we are going to lose them. In Eva Saulitis's case, her answer is a resounding yes.
At twenty-three, as an idealistic college graduate, Saulitis drove to Alaska to work in a remote salmon hatchery. There, on a winter day, she saw her first orca. Over the next twenty years, as she found her footing as a biologist, she was drawn deeply into the lives of a unique and endangered orca population struggling to survive in Prince William Sound. She came to know and love the whales as a culture and as individuals. In 1989, she witnessed first-hand the devastation wrought by the Exxon Valdez oil spill-after which not a single calf was born to the group.
With the intellectual rigor of a scientist and the heart of a poet, Saulitis renders the whales' secretive lives, as well as the abundant life of the waters-the birds, seals, and otters with whom the orcas share their world. Vividly she conveys the whales' personalities, from the matriarch Chenega and her companions to the trio of mischievous "Bad Boys," and the majestic Eyak, who sang like a siren.
In the wake of the recent BP oil spill, we still don't know what the long-term effects on marine life might be. From the vantage of over twenty years dealing with the aftermath of the Valdez spill, Saulitis shows how a group of shy orcas carrying out their lives in a remote corner of Alaska have something to teach us about our connectedness to animals to place-and what we stand to lose if we don't protect both.
Both an elegy for one orca family and a celebration of a species, Into Great Silence speaks for all vanishing species in an increasingly vulnerable natural world.
“[A] sensitively written memoir...Readers who enjoyed Alexandra Morton’s Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us will be fascinated by Saulitis’ account of her often remove, cold, and wet life as a field biologist and her respect for the whales and the people who lived around her.”
Review Kirkus Reviews - October 15, 2012
"A vivid, moving depiction of a way of life tragically becoming increasingly endangered."
Review By: Donna Seaman, Booklist - January 1, 2013
"Saulitis' stunning and sorrowful "book of contemplation" elucidates the discipline, tedium, danger, and bliss of whale studies; the solace she finds in art; and her intense relationships with her fellow orca experts. Candid, transfixing, and cautionary, Saulitis celebrates and mourns for a wondrous and imperiled species."
Review American Scientist - May 1, 2013
"The book is a must read-at once a visceral reminder of the fragility of our ancient planet, a requiem for its rapidly diminishing nature and a call to arms."
“There's great tenderness in this book, and great pathos--sometimes one wonders if it's worth the pain to pay attention amidst the gathering storm, but this powerful account shows us that it's precisely by keeping track of the world around us that we stay human.” —Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
"Eva Saulitis is a rare creature herself: a scientist with a poetic soul, a philosopher, a gifted writer. Into Great Silence is at once a love song to a wild place, an elegy, an inquiry into purpose and change, and a call to bring all our senses and ways of knowing to understanding and protecting our fragile world."
—Nancy Lord, author of Fishcamp and Beluga Days
"Through Saulitis's quest to understand the natural world, and through her heart, we find ourselves immersed in the fate of Prince William Sound's social, long-lived, black-and-white whales with brains considerably larger than ours. Fascinating becomes too cramped a word for either orcas or this book of self-discovery."
—Douglas Chadwick, author of The Grandest of Lives: Eye to Eye with Whales
"Eva Saulitis is what happens when you blend a solid field scientist and a natural-born poet. Into Great Silence is what happens when that writer plunges into a world beyond herself, an intimacy of orcas and a turning point this earth is hinged upon. Lamentation and celebration, her book is a keyhole to look through, a sharp eye on a realm swimming around us that few people ever see. It is proof that we are not alone in this world, even in the darkest, quietest loneliness."
—Craig Childs, author of The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild