If you want to learn more about whales and the issues they face around the world, there’s no better way to get up to speed than reading a good book. We’ve gathered five of our favourite titles, each covering different areas of whale awareness and protection. Read on to get the lowdown.

Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna

Written by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm. Published by St Martin’s Publishing Group.

This engrossing book followed on from the release of the documentary The Whale in 2011, which was narrated and executive produced by actor Ryan Reynolds. The film’s directors, Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm, take on writing duties for the book which captures the story of an orca whale Luna who becomes separated from his pod at a young age.

Orcas are highly social animals and lonely Luna soon seeks out human contact off Vancouver Island in Canada. People are warned not get too friendly with the young orca as it may ultimately cause harm to him if he gets too used to human interaction. It’s hard, though, to turn your back on a creature seeking out contact, wanting to have his tongue rubbed and squeaking and whistling in a fun game with people. Several groups try to come up with a solution to Luna’s isolation, including a proposal to reunite him with his pod. But will it go to plan?

War of the Whales: A True Story

Written by Joshua Horowitz. Published by Simon & Schuster.

Reading like a thriller novel at times, this book is factual.  It follows attorney Joel Reynolds as he uncovers a submarine surveillance system run by the U.S. Navy, which floods ocean basins with high-intensity sound.

Joel teams up with marine biologist Ken Balcomb to expose the truth behind this system and the connection to mass strandings of whales. This leads to a high stakes courtroom battle. Expect lots of twists and turns in the story.

Composite image of five books on whale protection

Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, SeaWorld and the Truth Beyond Blackfish

Written by John Hargrove. Published by Palgrave Macmillan.

It’s almost 10 years since documentary film Blackfish was released in 2013. It’s had a huge ripple effect in a relatively short period of time. John Hargrove was one of seven former SeaWorld trainers who was critical of the company in the documentary.

He penned his own book in 2015. It tells a compelling story of a boy with a childhood dream to become an orca trainer and the road he went on to make that happen. Over 14 years, John worked with 20 different whales on two continents and at two of SeaWorld’s U.S. facilities. He increasingly began to realise that keeping orcas in captivity was harmful to the animals and risky for the trainers who work with them (he documents his own multiple physical injuries from working with whales in the water).

John also tells the stories of whales he came to know and love during his time as an orca trainer. The difficult decision he made to leave SeaWorld in 2012, knowing he would no longer see them or care for them, comes across as a very moving part of the book. John has continued with his advocacy to shut down marine parks and encourage tourists not to visit them. Take a look at a recent blog he wrote on the subject for Peta.org.

The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling

Written by Kieran Mulvaney. Published by Shearwater Books.

The author of this book, Kieran Mulvaney, is co-founder of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (now known as Whale and Dolphin Conservation). He was also a campaigner and coordinator for four Greenpeace expeditions to Antarctica to intercept whaling ships and use nonviolent means to stop their slaughter of whales.

He recounts those voyages in the 2003 book The Whaling Season, combining personal narrative and behind-the-scenes info with a bigger story about the development of Greenpeace, the history of commercial whaling and scientific information on whales. The book also examines the forces at work in international whale politics. Highly readable and both informative and stirring in its plea to protect our ocean’s whales.

You might also like to read Kieran’s Washington Post Magazine cover story The Loneliest Whale in the World?

Fathoms: The World in the Whale

Written by Rebecca Giggs. Published by Simon & Schuster.

This 2020 book opens with writer Rebecca Giggs encountering a humpback whale that had stranded and died on a beach in her native Australia.

It’s the beginning of a journey in which she explores what whales mean to us, how they have managed to survive despite the harm brought by humans, and the threats they continue to face due to our environmental crisis (acidification of oceans and pollutants to name but a couple) along with net entanglement, ship strikes and noise pollution.

It’s a book full of insight as Rebecca travels around the world to see and learn more about our varied whale species. And it’s a joy to read with its lyrical sense of writing.