My rating: ★★★★★
A copy of this book was provided free via Edelweiss for the purpose of review.
It’s been quite a while since a book has had as great an emotional effect on me as Eva Saulitis’s Into Great Silence: A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas. By the end of the book, I was very close to tearing up; it’s quite a touching story, and the reality of it resonates with me.
Into Great Silence is the story of Eva Saulitis, Prince William Sound, and the Chugach transient orcas. It’s also a story of environmental catastrophe, impending extinction, and the tragic loss of life born of human carelessness.
Reading about Saulitis’s experiences studying orcas in the Prince William Sound, I envy her. She describes her summers at the Sound amazingly; it’s so easy to envision living there. From the frigid waterfall showers to the camping and hiking, from the long hours spent searching for and studying the orcas to the relationships with her research assistants. I can’t help wishing that I could spend a summer that way—and this coming from a woman with a fear of open water!
But it’s clear that I couldn’t spend a summer like Saulitis’s first summers in the Sound even if I had the initiative: the Sound is not the same place as it was then.
I was born several years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill that so fundamentally changed the Prince William Sound and its ecosystem. By the time I come into existence, the Prince William Sound is a different place from the beginning of the book with a different balance, a balance that may or may not be unsustainable for some of its residents. Namely, the Chugach transients.
As Saulitis familiarizes her readers with these elusive orcas, I couldn’t help forming an attachment to them. I’m always a sucker when it comes to emotional connections with animals; I form them easily, whether warranted or not, and all it takes is an image or an anecdote to do it. So as Saulitis explains her emotions at the loss of these whales, it’s all too easy to feel what she feels. It’s all too easy to share in her mourning when she finally goes to visit the bones of Eyak, and there’s no avoiding the mourning that must come with the realization that in a few more years, there may not be such a thing as a living Chugach transient.
Above all else, though, it hurts to think that a single careless oil spill may have been the proverbial straw to break the delicate balance of the Sound, and that its new state of balance may not include a niche for the orcas I fell in love with over the course of Into Great Silence.
So I’m very pleased to have read this book; this is the first real glimpse I’ve had into the world of orcas, and it’s a bittersweet environmental lesson.
If you’re interested in reading more about the Chugach transients, Eva Saulitis contributed to a National Geographic article on the subject. Read it here–and note the photograph of Eyak’s bones.