Spirits of the Coast

Edited by Dr. Martha Black, Dr. Lorne Hammond and Dr. Gavin Hanke with Nikki Sanchez


Spirits of the Coast brings together the work of marine biologists, Indigenous knowledge keepers, poets, artists and storytellers, united by their enchantment with the orca. Long feared in Western cultures as “killer whales,” and respected and honoured by Indigenous cultures as friends, family or benefactors, orcas are complex social beings with culture and language of their own.

With contributors ranging from Briony Penn to David Suzuki, Gary Geddes and Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, this collection brings together diverse voices, young and old, to explore the magic, myths and ecology of orcas. A literary and visual journey through past and possibility, Spirits of the Coast illustrates how these enigmatic animals have shaped us as much as our actions have impacted them, and provokes the reader to imagine the shape of our shared future.

May 2020, Hardcover, 216 pages

ISBN 9780772677686


Dr. Martha Black has been the curator of Indigenous collections at the Royal BC Museum since 1997. She has a PhD in art history from the University of Victoria and an MA in interdisciplinary studies from York University, both focused on Heiltsuk art and museum collections. Before coming to the Royal BC Museum, she was curator and associate director of the Isaacs Gallery in Toronto.

Dr. Lorne Hammond has been the curator of history at the Royal BC Museum since 1997. His research focuses on British Columbia’s energy history. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Ottawa.

Dr. Gavin Hanke is the curator of vertebrate zoology at the Royal BC Museum. He has described and named 10 new fossil fish species, works with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans to document marine fish distributions, and is working on a series of papers detailing many new species records and species range extensions along the BC coast. Gavin also works with the BC Ministry of Environment to collect and monitor exotic vertebrates.

Nikki Sanchez is a Pipil/Maya and Irish/Scottish academic, Indigenous media maker and environmental educator. She holds a master’s degree in Indigenous governance and is completing a PhD with a research focus on emerging visual media technology as it relates to Indigenous ontology. For over a decade, Nikki has worked as a wilderness guide, Indigenous environmental educator and decolonial curriculum advisor, and for two years she was the David Suzuki Foundation “Queen of Green.”

“With its heartfelt essays and stunning photographs of orcas in moments both intense and tender; colorful examples of Indigenous orca art, both historic and contemporary; and stories, legends, and science, Spirits of the Coast makes it clear that the survival of magnificent orcas “isn’t about managing the ocean, it’s about managing humans.” ”
—Kristine Morris, in Foreword Reviews

“Among all the marvels of life on the West Coast, there’s nothing quite like spotting a black dorsal fin arcing through the waves. The Royal BC Museum’s history- and culture-spanning exhibit on the orca was originally planned for a May 15 opening but has been pushed back to next year for reasons everyone knows and never needs to hear explained ever again. But the accompanying hardcover book has been published in advance. Its luminous, large-format pages offer everything from Haida storytelling to marine biology, all to show our too-often-ignored kinship with this astonishing animal. ”
—Brian Lynch, in the Georgia Straight

“Anyone looking for an introduction to the history, science and cultural significance of the orca could do no better than to start here. . . . Spirits of the Coast is a celebration of the orca, not a lament. It is impossible to read its essays, and to view its handsome illustrations, without recognizing that these are remarkable animals with whom we are privileged to share an environment and that we have a responsibility to do what we can to shield them from our own worst impulses. They are often seen as symbols, but symbols of what: renewal and stewardship, or environmental collapse? This is ultimately the question posed by Spirits of the Coast. ”
—Daniel Francis, in the Ormsby Review

“This ‘literary and visual journey through past and possibility’ is probably the best literary bargain you’ll find this year. . . . It juxtaposes gorgeous photos with sketches, poetry, Indigenous stories and first-hand experiences and observations of experts.” —Cherie Thiessen, in Pacific Yachting

Additional information

Dimensions 22.86 × 15.24 cm



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