When Saanich resident and orca activist Mark Leiren-Young was growing up, he didn’t enjoy science class and had no plans to be an author. Yet, he has been writing about orcas for over 20 years and recently published his second book about them.
Orcas Everywhere: The Mystery and History of Killer Whales, published by Orca Books, is aimed at middle school students and is the first in the Orca Wild series that will feature various authors. Leiren-Young refers to his book as an “introduction to the orca-verse.”
The book is a reference guide to orcas around the world. Leiren-Young hopes the book will appear everywhere from classrooms to BC Ferries to bed and breakfasts for folks of all ages to enjoy.
Leiren-Young wears many hats – he’s an actor, comic, documentary filmmaker, science journalist and now a children’s author. However, he feels the title “orca activist” has replaced all others. He spends so much time writing about, filming, and advocating for orcas, he feels he’s almost a member of J pod – the name given to the southern resident orca pod near Vancouver Island.
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In 2016, Leiren-Young’s first book about whales, The Killer Whale Who Changed the World, was released. It outlined the history of Moby Doll, an orca who lived at the Vancouver Aquarium after being accidentally captured. Moby was the first orca in the world to be captured and displayed. Before her, people thought orcas were monsters, Leiren-Young explained.
He became interested in orcas about 20 years ago – he felt the concept of humans meeting what they thought was a monster sounded like “real-life science fiction.” After having no luck pitching a documentary film about Moby, Leiren-Young wrote feature articles and produced a radio documentary on the subject. When he won a Jack Webster Award for the radio documentary, Moby Doll: The Killer Whale that Changed the World, Greystone Books approached him with a book deal.
After Moby Doll’s story hit the stands, Orca Book Publishers asked Leiren-Young to translate the story into something for kids and Orcas Everywhere came to life.
He said his lack of a background in science helped him ask “kid questions” when interviewing the world’s top oceanographers and Indigenous folks. His lack of confidence in his own knowledge also encouraged him to fact-check rigorously.
What’s next for Leiren-Young? He’s still in orca-mode.
“The number of things I’m doing on whales is loopy,” he said.
He’s currently writing the Royal B.C. Museum resident whale exhibit and has begun working on a picture book as well as a baby book about orcas.