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Victoria Times-Colonist: "This Book’s a Must for Whale-Watching"
As a boy growing up in wartime Sheffield, England, the closest David Spalding ever came to a whale was when it was dead and on his dinner table.

“Sea beef" was a popular protein in those days of rationing, usually greeted by Spalding's father singing "whale meat again" to the tune of Vera Lynn's wartime standard, We'll Meet Again.

But now Spalding has live whales frolicking near his Pender Island home. Whales of the West Coast is the whale book we have been waiting for. It's pocket sized for easy reference and is rich in black-and-white photographs, drawings, charts and need-to know information for whale-watchers. In fact, it's almost as essential as a pair of binoculars on a whale-watching trip.

Spalding has written seven other books, mostly about nature. With his wife, Andrea, they operate the Arbutus Retreat Bed and Breakfast on Pender, and they wrote The Flavours of Victoria in 1994. It does not include recipes for whale flesh.

Spalding's book is even handed and free of sentiment about whaling. He acknowledges its importance to aboriginal culture and makes no judgment on the Makah tribe of Washington State having permission to kill five whales.

"Many criticize modern whaling as an economically unsound, wasteful means of producing dog food," he says, but he points out that whale oil lubricated the wheels of the Industrial Revolution and lit the way to literacy.

He has organized the book well, discussing each species in detail, offering a history of whaling and whale research and then looking to the economic benefits and possible hazards of the new industry called whale watching. He gives the best times for whale watching, or, if you want to be sure of seeing a whale, lists the aquaria on the West Coast. He offers advice on how to watch whales - including seasickness remedies.

Almost nothing about whales escapes his attention. He tells readers how they can "adopt" a whale; he showcases Victoria's "whaling wall" on Wharf Street, and even offers a photograph of a mailbox painted in the form of an orca.
Sadly, he also notes some people who have lost their lives to captive orcas, including Victoria’s own Keltie Byrne, who died at the now defunct Sealand, in Oak Bay. With a reprint, he'll have to recognize T'illikum's second victim, the drifter who died in a dip in a whale pool in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month.

But there are still many mysteries: Despite all the research, Spalding says scientists don't know where the transient orca pods spend their winters.

Whales of the West Coast is full of wonderful whale stories, including one of an animal psychologist’s first attempts to "train" a newly captured orca at the Vancouver Aquarium. Skana started to gently rub her teeth over Paul Spong's bare feet. Gradually he realized she was trying to “train” him not be afraid of her.
-Anne Moon, Victoria Times-Colonist


Review from BC Studies
After a seventy-five year hiatus, Makah whaling harpoons again found their mark in 1999. Live television coverage of Native whalers in a dugout canoe chasing and killing a grey whale rendered news crews speechless. The Makah served notice they were reclaiming a cultural and spirtual heritage dating back hundreds - if not thousands - of years. They argued that greys had been removed from the endangered species list and that their right to a food hunt was firmly entrenched in an 1855 treaty with the US government. Response from around the world was swift. Conservationists and animal rights activists attempted to stop the hunt on the water, anonymous death threats were aimed at some Makah leaders, and the public attempted to make sense of a hunt considered by many to be unnecessary and barbaric. In the span of a single generation, public opinion had shifted from indifference to righteous anger.

In Whales of the West Coast naturalist David Spalding puts the hunt into a historical context. He notes that it is part of a long, complex relationship between humans and whales. West Coast Natives hunted whales for centuries; British, French, and American whalers later sailed from bases in San Francisco, Seattle, and Victoria. Whales were prized for their oil and a multitude of products made from their carcasses - from buggy whips to perfumes and dog food. One whaling station at Coal Harbour on northern Vancouver Island took almost 23,000 whales over fifty-six years. Japanese and Russian factory ships were known to kill that many in one season alone; grey populations were under siege. Former Coal Harbour whaler Harry Hole remembers the hunt thirty-five years ago: "You didn't question either ethics or conservation - it was just what you did. These were the days when you could go out and see 100 whales at a time. We hunted as far down as the US border as as far as the Charlottes.

It's difficult to fathom now, but in 1959 the Department of Fisheries and Oceans positioned a machine gun over Seymour Narrows to shoot orcas because BC fishers thought whales were cutting into fish stocks. Spalding points out that there wasn't a word of protest: "In the end the machine gun was never fired. Nevertheless, many fishermen and others shot at orcas; a quarter of the orcas later captured for aquaria had bullet wounds. Imagine public response if government set up a gun today!"

Whales of the West Coast includes a natural history of orcas, greys, humpbacks, and lesser known whales, and it is packed with whale trivia that is sure to amaze and amuse (the loudest whale is a blue, recorded at 188 decibels; a right whale's testicle can weigh one ton). His first-person accounts of whale encounters in the wild are engrossing; Spalding is truly in awe of these warm-blooded, social creatures. He brings a unique perspective, having eaten whale steak as a child in England and later worked at a museum in a historic whaling port. After a career with Canadian museums, Spalding moved to Pender Island, where he now delights in strolling to the beach to watch orcas surface. Today tens of thousands of people travel from around the globe to the West Coast for much the same experience. A $6 million guided whale-watching industry has emerged in the waters between Alaska and Oregon. Spalding believes that whales have found a place in mainstream culture: "There images appear everywhere in West Coast design from business logos to tattoos. Interest in whales extends into the elite culture of paintings, prints and sculptures, and an extensive non-fiction literature."

We're introduced to numerous "whale people": fossil hunters Jim and Gail Goedert of Gig Harbour, Washington, who have searched out 400 whale specimens; animal psychologist Paul Spong, who has brought new understanding to the behaviour of resident and transient orcas and has campaigned for whales in the wild; and John Ford, curator of the marine mammals at the Vancouver Aquarium, who, for twenty-five years, has been conducting groundbreaking orca acoustics research. Whaling historian Joan Goddard, whose grandfather managed BC whaling stations earlier this century, comments, "I'd like to write about how we are going to relate to whales in the next century - about use of whales with respect." Spalding muses that whale people are "as fascinating as the whales themselves."

Whales of the West Coast serves as a useful handbook for newcomers to whale watching as well as seasoned observers. Its 200 pages include details on whale parks, museums, hotlines, research and conservation agencies, and information on when and where to view whales in the wild. Spalding thinks that our growing fascination with whales can only pay dividends: "If closer association with whales can help us develop a new more intimate, friendly relationship with nature, we surely need it."
-Mark Forsythe, BC Studies


Review from Discovery (Royal BC Museum)
In the crowded field of whale books, it becomes increasingly difficult to provide a new perspective on the topic. Yet David Spalding's Whales of the West Coast succeeds in taking a refreshingly different approach.

Spalding aims his book at the general audience, focussing on whales of the Northwest Coast and particularly BC. The first two chapters introduce the reader to basic whale biology, followed by brief descriptions of the common and rare species of our coast. Other chapters cover aboriginal and commercial whaling, whale research, whale watching, conservation, and whales in human culture. Most of these topics have been explored in other books, but the focus on local whales makes this book especially useful to British Columbians.

Throughout the book, Spalding has scattered anecdotes about whales and brief biographies of whale researchers. These tidbits, set apart by rules and different type style, interrupt the flow of the book, but they contain a wealth of information. The book is appended with a resource section containing a variety of useful information, from locations for whale-watching to a chronology of important events in the history of whale research and conservation.

Whales of the West Coast is not a field guide that will help you identify whales, nor does it provide detailed accounts of the biology of local whale species. Still, the addition of some colour photographs would have made the book more appealing (though it would surely increase the price), and Spalding's coverage of the Killer Whale (Orca) is too heavy at the expense of other species. But despite these minor complaints, I found Whales of the West Coast an interesting, well-written and useful book.
-David Nagorsen, Discovery (Royal BC Museum)


Review from The Delta Optimist
Our word "whale" provides glimpses of whales in action: its Old English root "hvael" means "a wheel." According to experts a large whale's rolling back often looks like the rim of a wheel.

Although human contact with whales likely began with whaling - archaeologists say that whaling by aboriginals may have started about 3000 years on the West Coast - interest in whales is now concerned primarily in how to conserve the species. West Coast whales are featured in news headlines, the Makah of Washington State have resumed whaling and Keiko, star of the "Free Willy" movies, has left his Oregon home for Iceland and perhaps eventual return to the wild.

Whales of the West Coast, by David A. E. Spalding, published by Harbour Publishing of Madeira Park, B.C., could answer most questions you ever had about these powerful, intelligent and mysterious animals.

A third of the 70 living species are found in the North Pacific and the author examines the better known species in detail - the orcas, porpoise, grey, humpback and minke.

He also takes a look at the rarer whales such as the sperm, blue and beluga, how whales breathe, move and stay warm; what they eat and what eats them, how they reproduce, form groups and where they fit in the ecosystem.

Spalding also gives a broad overview of human interactions with whales, from First Nations whaling on the B.C. coast and the spread of commercial whaling.

With a West Coast whale chronology, information on whale watching, a calendar of whale events in the Pacific Northwest and lists of museums, parks, archives and research agencies, Whales of the West Coast is fascinating reading for anyone interested in whales and their importance in our culture.

Whale Trivia:
The whale's closest land relatives - Hippos and cattle.
The biggest baby - Blue whale, 23 feet or 7 m.
Biggest brain - Sperm whale, 22 lbs. or 10 kg.
Deepest diver -Sperm whale, 3330 feet or 1014 m.
Longest gestation period Large mysticetes, 12 months.
Loudest call - Blue whale, 188 decibels.
Longest penis - Blue whale, ten feet, 3 m.
Edgar Dunning, The Delta Optimist

Review from Canadian Book Review Annual
This small guidebook is bulging with masses of information, all so well organized and presented so skillfully that it becomes a member of that most rare of book species, a reference work that's enjoyable as light reading. As a reference work it has the bases covered: the whales (including dolphins and porpoises), the history of whaling, the role of whales in Native culture, whales in captivity, whale behavior, the future for whales, whale watching, photographing of whales, economic impacts, terminology, chronology, and contacts. There are details on the various species (information on habitat, reproduction, feeding, migration), relationships (whale-to-whale and the whale-to-human), anatomy, physiology, and vocalizations. All this is presented in a lively style, with the details and data cushioned by human interest anecdotes, more than 130 photos, and numerous quick-fact sidebars.

Whales discussed include white-sided and Dall porpoises, orcas, harbor, grey, humpback, minke, beluga, sperm, blue, fin, sei, and right whales. Pilot, beaked, and false killer whales receive less coverage. Although the text is limited to species found the West Coast (California to Alaska), that restriction excludes less than half a dozen of the whales to which Canadians have regular access.

Spalding brings extensive first-hand experience to the work, and his love of these giant mammals is evident on every page.
Janet Arnett, Canadian Book Review Annual

Review from Canadian Content
David Spading's book is a well organized compilation of biological and historical information about the whales on the westcoast. The first half of the book examines the natural hiostory of the common and rarer species of whales that pass through our waters. From basic biological funtions to more complex social and feding structures, Spalding explores the origins, biology and ecology of these whales. The second half examines the history of human interaction with whales. There is a fascinatin look at the First Nations whalin culure and the larhe Pacific commercial whaling industry. Spaldin examines our present fascination with whales na dhow science has evolved from measurement and antomy into exciting studies of wild whales. The book ends with a whale chronology, information and maps on whale watching, whale events, museums, parks, hotlines, archives, research agencies, and how you can adopt and support whale research on the westcoast.

This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of whales on the westcoast and their importance of our culture. Interetsing photographs and interviews with scientists, whalers, trainers, and First Nations people make this book a wonderful blend of science and history.
Canadian Content