Book review: Orca starts with a bang, ends on ice

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Before there was “Blackfish,” there was “Orca.”

And alongside Orca the book (1977) was Orca the movie.  And a dreadful movie it was.  My main memory is of a whale fetus ejected from its mother’s womb, landing on a ship deck, and squealing like a human baby.  It put the “ick” in flick.  As others have pointed out, the novel is superior.

Jack Campbell, the main character, is an alcoholic who is hopelessly uninterested in anything life has to offer, barely keeping his father’s charter boating business in Florida afloat.  His sister Annie’s boyfriend finds a newspaper article about a $125K reward from the Japanese for the capture of a great white shark.  Campbell’s crew, including surly Gus, head north in the Bumpo.

While hunting fish, Campbell finally finds that the activity excites him.  He begins to step away from the bottle.  Ending up in Canadian waters, the Bumpo fails to capture a shark.  Netting an orca, the killer whale, is more feasible.  Campbell and the Bumpo’s crew gain the blessing from the leaders of a South Harbor, a Newfoundland fishing village, to ship out on a whaling mission.

During the expedition, a pregnant orca delivers a stillborn calf.  The orca father, dubbed “Nickfin” by a local Indian chief, blames Campbell.  That sets into motion a series of attacks against vessels, Campbell’s loved ones, and South Harbor.  The Bumpo is damaged, and Campbell is stuck back in town awaiting repairs while the entire town turns on him.

There he falls in love with Rachel, a whale expert who doesn’t want Campbell to kill the orca.  He doesn’t want to tangle with Nickfin either, since he knows how dangerous the whale is.  But the town becomes so antagonistic that Campbell has little choice but to ready for battle with the orca on the high seas.

Campbell is a strong, engaging character.  The succession of events leading to the final battle is compelling.  The orca’s attack scenes are gripping.  The fickleness of the villagers—cheering on Jack at one point and trying to run him out on a rail later on—is frustrating but true to life.  Overall, I liked the book.  People who like sea monster fiction like Jaws and Meg will find this to be a quick and entertaining read.  The audiobook was fun because of the sly narration by Mark Moseley.  I’d give the novel three out of five stars.

Why not a higher rating?  There’s an odd theme in the book involving Campbell’s bonding or soul connection with Nickfin.  Campbell perceives that the orca represents freedom.  That doesn’t make sense since the whale seems as obsessed with revenge as Campbell does.  At other points, the orca represents Campbell’s own demons—perhaps his alcoholism or sense of worthlessness.  At times the connection borders on the paranormal with Campbell practically reading the whale’s thoughts.  That element didn’t work for me, and the final page or two made for a limp ending.

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Mammoth calf on tour in Canada

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Mammoth calf, preserved

The surprisingly well-preserved body of a woolly mammoth calf is on loan from Siberia to Victoria’s Royal British Columbia Museum.  The infant mammoth is thought to have been one month old at the time that she drowned and froze to death 40,000 years ago.  Lyuba is named for the wife of the Siberian shepherd who discovered the mammoth.  I’m sure the wife was thrilled about that.  From CBC News:

New Royal BC Museum exhibit features Lyuba, a 40,000-year-old baby mammoth

Exhibit also features a dire wolf, made famous by Game of Thrones

By Liam Britten, CBC News Posted: May 29, 2016 6:00 AM PTLast Updated: May 29, 2016 1:33 PM PT

Dire wolves, mastodons and short-faced bears, oh my.

Those are just some of the creatures featured in a new exhibit at Victoria’s Royal BC Museum called Mammoths: Giants of the Ice Age.

The exhibit includes a 40,000-year-old baby woolly mammoth as its centrepiece, which the museum calls the best-preserved specimen in existence.

The mammoth, on loan from the Shemanovskiy Yamal-Nenets District Museum and Exhibition Complex in Siberia, has been travelling the world since 2010.

The mammoth is named Lyuba, after the wife of the Siberian herder who discovered it, according to Evgeniya Khzyainov, deputy director and curator for the Shemonovskiy Museum.

Khzyainov told All Points West’s Sterling Eyford that the mammoth was about one or two months old when it died by drowning.

“When she died she wasn’t damaged by other animals, she was frozen, and when she froze it was [lucky] she wasn’t damaged again by animals,” said Khzyainov…