This book is published at a very timely moment in the history of sea mammals in European waters, a time when every one of them is threatened to one degree or another.
Let us earnestly hope that what is presented as a first rate field guide, replete with a wide range of photographs of the rich and varied marine life of the region, is not soon to be a requiem of extinct species.
The work starts with a standard "How to use this guide" section and answers the fundamental question "What is a sea mammal?"
It moves on to "Threats to sea mammals in the 21st century" and it is to this section that I will return.
There is a very helpful discussion about watching Europe's sea mammals, with tips on where, when and how to look, with comments on behavioural characters that assist in identification. This is the "meat and potatoes" section for an avid observer, and is especially helpful when standing on the heaving deck of a small boat trying to clinch the identification of a mammal that appears and disappears with the roiling waves.
All of these sections are written in readable style with information succinctly presented, and valuable for novice and seasoned marine mammalogist alike.
There follows a detailed account of each mammal to be found in the area accompanied by a series of pictures depicting morphology, behaviour and habitat. Many of the photographs are remarkable in their clarity, and their depiction of mammals that often give but a fleeting glimpse before diving beneath the surface of the water.
There then follows important coverage of relevant legislation for the protection of sea mammals.
Some of these conventions are well known to all of us, and we may perhaps be lulled into a false sense of belief that all is well and that rules are respected and enforced. But such is often not the case, and frequently laws are flouted and enforcement is sporadic, unevenly applied, or ignored completely.
The greatest threat of all to marine mammals, however, is pollution of our oceans. It is ongoing, pervasive, massive and seemingly out of control. The volume of plastic and PCBs being annually added to an already over-burdened ecosystem is staggering. Glumly, I have to state that there seems to be no end in sight to this problem, and the very survival of many of the wonderful creatures covered in this book is in serious jeopardy.
I applaud Princeton University Press' decision to publish this important volume at a time when the very life forms it depicts are imperilled. It is a significant reminder that the oceans are full of exquisite creatures, but despite their depth and vastness are no more immune from threats than are terrestrial ecosystems.
Buy an extra copy and send it to your Member of Parliament, Congressman or Deputy, to your Prime Minister or to your President. The time for action is now!
Europe's Sea Mammals Including the Azores, Madeira, the Canary Islands and Cape Verde: A field guide to whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals.
Robert Still, Hugh Harrop, Tim Stenton, and Luis Dias
Paperback - $24.95 - 9780691182162 - 208 pages - 5 7/8 x 8 1/4
Publication date: 25 June 2019