BOOK REVIEW: The Whale Who Wouldn’t Die: The True Story of “Miracle”

The Whale Who Wouldn't Die: The True Story of "Miracle"

The Whale Who Wouldn’t Die tells the true story of “Miracle,” an orca whale calf who was discovered in grievous condition in British Columbia in 1977. Thanks to the dedication of marine scientists and vets, the little whale was nursed back to health, but she spent the remainder of her life in captivity.

Jeune’s writing style leaves something to be desired. One gets the feeling the number of pages could have been halved if the author wasn’t so annoyingly wordy and so easily distracted by unrelated issues. Because no one really knows how Miracle ended up nearly beaching herself in that cove, sporting wounds caused by bullets, nets, and other whales’ teeth, Jeune has to fictionalize a history for her. The result was overly sentimental and rather silly. For example, at one point a teenage boy is depicted as killing several adult killer whales, including Miracle’s mother and father, with a .22 rifle. (Come on!)

Early on, the now-defunct marine park Sealand took a keen interest in Miracle, and it was understood early on that if she were to survive, she would go to the park. Even in 1977, there existed some controversy over the keeping of whales in captivity. However, Jeune portrays the anti-captivity contingent as the villains in this story, such as this passage in which a Greenpeace ship is spotted hanging around the bay:

Sealand and Greenpeace had often been at loggerheads over whale issues and, upon seeing the flag, [whale caretaker] Matthews braced his crew for an onslaught of abuse and criticism.

Sealand and Greenpeace in disagreement? Gee, I wonder why. However, it wasn’t Greenpeace that got mixed up in the debate over Miracle’s future.

The group—actually a twosome comprising Stanley Burke, publisher of a mid-Vancouver Island weekly newspaper, and Bruce Bott, a former Sealand employee—announced a daring and somewhat expensive plan to send the calf back into the wild. It was instantaneously dubbed the Free Miracle Campaign and just as quickly got shot down in a blaze of flames by the press and denounced by the public.

The author plays residents’ aggressive reactions to Free Miracle campaigners for laughs. Meanwhile, federal fisheries officials stated that they would oppose any move to put Miracle back into the wild at any time.

But things had gotten better for killer whales, the author argues.

For many years a few commercial fishermen considered themselves God’s appointed exterminators of killer whales. … The Icelandic government, pestered by its fishermen, who claimed the killer whales were devouring all the commercial fish, had enlisted the help of the United States. The American solution was to send airforce bombers to the rescue.

Even family-friendly aquariums were involved in the bloody act:

[The Vancouver Aquarium’s] plan, also covered extensively by the press, was to harpoon a killer whale, skin it and hang its skeleton in their museum. No one flinched and the public eagerly read accounts of the whalers’ progress.

But along the way, people figured out that live, performing whales make much more money than dead ones.

By the end of the 1960s, whales were caught only for display. By 1970, the killing of whales had been outlawed and further legislation had reduced the number of killer whales caught to be “replacement animals”—whales to replace ones that died in oceanariums.

(Rather telling last few words there. ) However, the author posits:

In a previous era the wounded calf would have been finished off in a round of spiteful target practice.

After reading Farley Mowat’s A Whale for the Killing, I would tend to agree. However, Miracle was still finished off—not by bullets, but by captivity, while still just a baby. As Sealand promoters had eagerly wished, Miracle did go on to become their star performer. However, her postscript was not contained in this volume:

Miracle lived at Sealand for almost four years until mid-January1982, when she became tangled in a net that formed one side of her pool and drowned. It has never been determined who her family might have been or how she came to be wounded and alone in Menzies Bay. http://thetyee.ca/Life/2008/05/23/OrcaGo…

On an unrelated note, it should be noted that a male killer whale, with his large, triangular dorsal fin, is clearly depicted on the jacket illustration, however, the animal described in the story is female.

(Review originally appeared at goodreads.com)

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

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