contributed photo

Lopezian Gene Helfman releases new book

  • Thu Aug 12th, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

Submitted by Gene Helfman.

Some 30 years ago, Gene Helfman attended a scientific conference at the Vancouver Aquarium. Helfman, on the faculty of the University of Georgia, took a break from the evening’s fish talks and wandered outside. He chanced upon a lone orca swimming in the pool where the daytime whale shows occurred. Fascinated at first, Helfman realized that the orca wasn’t swimming but pacing, a caged animal in a confined space.

Thus began a fascination with a species about which he knew little. Devouring the available, and then relatively-limited, literature on killer whales, it was obvious that these large, intelligent, highly social animals belonged in the wild, not in small pools forced to perform tricks for food. The idea of writing a novel about a captive orca emerged. However, Helfman, a fish behavioral ecologist, first continued his field research on fish and authored four text and reference books about fish and fish conservation. But the novel was always there, in the background.

Retiring from UGA in 2007, Helfman and his wife, Dr. Judy Meyer, a freshwater ecologist, moved to Lopez Island. Orcas were constantly in the local news, especially because the iconic Southern Resident killer whales were in trouble. A novel became more likely, but only after Helfman finished a screenplay about the reprehensible activity of shark finning. Then, in 2013, the movie Blackfish came out, revealing the deplorable condition of captive orcas, especially Tillicum, a captive male orca who killed a trainer at Seaworld in Orlando, FL. And in 2018, the world was riveted by the heartbreaking tragedy of Tahlequah, a Southern Resident female, who carried the body of her newborn calf for seventeen days in an unmistakable show of grief. A similar event had always been somewhere in the nascent novel. It was time to get serious about writing.

The finished product, just released, is Beyond the Human Realm, an animal story for adults, centered on the life of a captive male orca returned to the wild. The novel has received advanced accolades, including a coveted 5-star Best Book review from Chanticleer, an international reviewing service, who described it as “A smart, scientifically sound tale told by a whale who wants nothing more than to be reunited with his own kind. A highly recommended must-read!”

Published by Luminare Press in Eugene, Oregon, Beyond the Human Realm is available through local bookstores and in print and e-book format from Profits from the sale of the book will be donated to orca conservation efforts.

For details, visit