Orca whales, particularly the Southern Residents, have been much in the news recently as environmentalists fight against increased tanker traffic on the Canadian west coast.
This beautifully illustrated non-fiction picture book, for middle school students, follows the work of biologist Ken Balcomb as he studies this group of eighty-three orcas that travel in three pods near the St Juan Islands during the summer months. Interestingly, the reader learns that is was a Canadian, Dr. Mike Bigg, who originally identified the orca pods and he set up the letter and number system that identifies each orca in the pod.
In a readable text and a narrative style, students learn about the Southern Resident orcas in pods J, K, and L who reside off the southern coast of Vancouver Island. Readers will find information on the markers that identify each orca, their social interaction, rearing of their young, food sources, nutrition and health, contaminants in their food chain, and unique behaviours that may be their communication system alerting the pod to danger. Readers will discover how scat and biopsies help to monitor the orca’s health.
In the final chapters, attention is focused on new technologies that monitor behaviour, such as drones to replace the expensive helicopters, to take photos and track migration. The last words are devoted to conservation, and the efforts being make to avoid further endangerment. The writer makes the case for the orca as a symptom of a global problem:
“We live in an ecosystem where everything depends on everything being healthy and viable; we can’t continue to consume the planet and contaminate it and expect that humans are going to survive.” (p.71)
Key non-fiction text features include: glossary, selected bibliography, author notes, and index.
An excellent resource to accompany science units on Conservation, Endangered Animals, Grade 4 science topic Waste in our World, or for those readers with an interest in marine life in general or whales in particular.