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A letter to readers from Natalie Sanders

Happy publication day to Dr Natalie Sanders and The Last Sunset in the West! To mark publication day, we're very pleased to share a letter from the author here on the Sandstone blog.

Britain’s west coast is home to only one pod of orca, and they’re heading rapidly towards extinction. This book memorialises the last of these incredible animals, explains what their loss means, and discusses how we can avoid similar tragedies in the future.

We'd like to say a huge thank you to all the marine conservation organisations who have supported this book so far. As Alison Lomax from the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust said, ‘It is vital that the story of the West Coast Community is spread far and wide.’

We hope you'll all find the book as fascinating and important as we did, and that you'll help share the story of the orca of the West Coast Community.

Dear Reader,

The journey to writing this book started almost 10 years ago. I was fascinated with the West Coast Community, an elusive family of just ten orca that reside predominantly in the wild waters of the west coast of Scotland. This group is culturally, ecologically, and genetically different to all other orca on the planet. They have been fighting for their survival but now just two elderly members of the community are left. Facing imminent extinction, they will take with them many unanswered questions.

In my quest to learn more while we still have them, I took part in a 10-day marine mammal survey expedition in the Hebrides. With just a few individuals and a lot of seas to traverse, the chances of seeing them were remote. However, luck was on my side as we chanced upon Aquarius and Comet and we marvelled at their sheer power and magnificence for an hour. Sadly, that was the last time Comet was ever seen.

Orca are the most incredible animals. With family bonds that rival our own, they love, show compassion and empathy, and they grieve. Despite being the ocean's apex predator, they are far from immune to our changing planet and all the various forms of pollution they must contend with. For 11 million years they have thrived, but now are in decline. The West Coast Community is just one of many populations struggling to cope with the marine environment as it is today.

The Last Sunset in the West tells the story of John Coe, Nicola, Comet, Moon, Lulu, Floppy Fin, Puffin, Aquarius, Occasus and Moneypenny, pieced together through research, interviews with experts and knowledge about others of their kind across the globe. It is in one part an account of what we know about them and their plight, and in the other part a celebration of the beauty of the Hebrides and its wildlife.

I invite you to join me on the voyage through this truly spectacular part of the world as I share tales from some extraordinary sightings including a super pod of common dolphins, belly dancing minke whales, flying bluefin tuna and countless seabirds. And, of course, my life-affirming meeting with Aquarius and Comet.

I hope this book not only informs and inspires but also helps you connect with our iconic orca as individuals with lives of their own. Lives that matter and that we must try to protect.

Natalie Sanders

Natalie Sanders

Natalie Sanders