Dr. Visser is obviously a person who loves her work. She is a scientist specializing in cetacean research. In particular, she studies the behavior of orca, or killer whales. If you have been lucky enough to meet Visser in her native New Zealand or on an expedition to the South Pacific or Antarctica, you know how passionate she is about the creatures to which she has dedicated her life.
The book, "Swimming with Orca," is semi-autobiographical, tracing the 40 years of Visser's remarkably rich life from that of a child growing up in New Zealand and sailing around the world with her father, to that of a scientist observing orca in their natural habitat. It is the story of a young woman with a dream and the obstacles she surmounts to attain that dream. As such, the book is both educational and inspirational. The writing is unpretentious, honest and easily accessible, and is illustrated by excellent pictures, in black and white and color. It is good reading for young and old alike.
The title of the book reflects Dr. Visser's courage in the face of animals with a reputation as the deadliest in the ocean. Even more so, it reveals the mutual trust that has come to exist between Visser and the orca who know her: she literally does swim with the orca, unafraid and without the use of protective devices. And individual orca do recognize Visser and her boat, and come to play, communicate, and seek affection. Dr. Visser lovingly describes these encounters.
Important issues of wildlife management also get their due. Dr. Visser addresses some of the situations which endanger orca and other marine mammals including industrial pollution; keeping animals in captivity; and irresponsible boat handling and fishing practices. She also describes efforts to protect the N.Z. orca, including an interesting discussion of the process of rescuing beached whales.
The book is a good resource for learning about cetacean research. It documents Visser's observations of orca behavior, and it describes the scientific methodology required to do work in this field. Additionally, Visser addresses the issue: should field research among animals be of the hands-off, observation-only kind, or can a more humane and interactive approach be as valid? Visser comes squarely down on the side of the humane and interactive, citing the work of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. This is fortunate for the reader: a tale about a whale named Ben is entirely more enjoyable and memorable than one about a scientific specimen labeled NZ101.
Although Swimming with Orca is her first book intended for a general audience, Dr. Visser has also helped produce a video for The Discovery Channel titled "Orca - Killers I have Known," has written several books for the children's market, and has published articles in scientific journals.