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Saturday, 22 February 2020

Book Review - Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises of the World - Princeton University Press

But what place is exempt, what creature safe, from the intrusion of man! Boast as he may of his humanity, he is in a state of perpetual warfare with every living thing which can satisfy his wants or pamper his appetite for luxuries; and his path, almost the world over may be tracked by blood.
J.N. Reynolds

     When I was very young (I don't remember a time when I was not wedded to nature), I had a hard time conceiving of air-breathing mammals living their entire lives in water, and producing live offspring in that seemingly hostile environment. To understand how this is possible has long been resolved, but the sheer wonder evoked by these animals has, if anything, been magnified with the passage of the years.
     A book devoted to the whales, dolphins and porpoises of the world is, therefore, a rare treat and one to be savoured. This lavishly illustrated volume is a template for excellence in its coverage of this group of mammals. Mammalogists the world over will take singular delight in its publication, and it will in short order occupy a place on every bookshelf.


     The work begins with a "how to use this book" section, followed immediately by a segment on the challenges of identification. All the different characters used to clinch ID are covered in detail, accompanied by a helpful series of illustrations. There then follows an introduction to the fourteen cetacean families and information for effective study at sea.
     A two-page spread on cetacean topography covers all salient points, with excellent photographic and diagrammatic support, and a readily understandable depiction of the parts of a cetacean skeleton.
     A "Quick ID" deals with all the topographical features by which cetaceans may be identified, followed by a breakdown of the species to be expected in the various oceans of the world.
     Having become well-equipped to deal with cetaceans as a group, the reader is then invited to delve into a masterful coverage of all the species in the world, from page 46 to page 507. This is the "meat and potatoes" of the book, with an informative, precise, well-written text for each species and an array of stunning photographs. Each species account is supported by maps, charts and schematic representations. There are species that I had not encountered before, and by reading the relevant account, I became familiar with them very quickly, and in considerable detail.
     One of the devices I find incredibly useful in a book of this nature is a glossary, yet so many works do not include one. This is not the case here, where an excellent glossary covers all the terms germane to cetaceans. And the description of each term is concise and complete.
     There is even a checklist at the end for people to tick the species they have seen. I must go through my records and complete this section based on my own experiences!
     Cetaceans are in trouble throughout the oceans and rivers of the world - all of them. Over-hunting by some nations is still a huge issue, with such illegal activity often being camouflaged as science, and the way that we are continuing to overload the seas with plastics and other pollutants is both staggering and foolhardy. Not only are we jeopardizing the future of these ancient, magnificent creatures, we are simultaneously incurring threats to our own survival, and degrading the very habitat which provides much needed protein for a burgeoning human population. It behooves all of us, if only from self-interest rather than altruism, to urge our politicians to take action to prevent the continuation of such practices and to remediate the degradation that has already occurred - and to do it now. We need to pay careful attention to the people we vote into power and ensure that knowledge of the natural world and a genuine conservation ethic is a key component for every public official.
     A world without cetaceans is unthinkable for me. The thought that my grandchildren should not be able to witness the majesty that I have been privileged to see is a thought too dire to contemplate. Let us all band together to make sure this does not happen.
     In summary, this is a book for its time, an important testament to a world which many will never experience personally, but is no less vital to the continuing viability of human existence.
     I encourage you to rush out and buy a copy and urge your local library to do the same. It is just that important.

Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises of the World
Mark Carwardine
Paperback - US$35.00 - 9780691202105 - 528 pages - 1,000 colour illustrations - 90 maps - 6 1/8 in. x 9 1/4 in.
Publication date: 25 February 2020

42 comments:

  1. Mark Carwardine is a wonderful zoologist, writer, photographer ...which I greatly admire! We don't have this book in our personal library, but my oldest son has something similar. "Mark Carwardine's guide to whale watching in North America" United States, Canada, & Mexico - Where to Go, What to See! . I try to show and tell my grandson about all the wonders that are in the oceans and about their life! How can I explain to Jojo about scary images with a killed whale ..... This must be stopped! Great review, David! Thank you!

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    1. You are doing great work with your grandson, Ella.

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  2. Hello David, a wonderful review of this book. I hope with you that indeed in future children and adults will still be able to see these magnificant animals alive and well. We and the Earth cannot do without it.
    Warm regards,
    Roos

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  3. Great review...and this book is one that I'd love to share with my children and grandchildren, though I've only seen dolphins myself!

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  4. That sounds and looks to be a really interesting book.
    A few days ago I learnt some wonderful news, that In just over three weeks, in the krill-rich waters of what was once their principal feeding ground, the movements of 55 Antarctic blue whales were recorded by the British Antarctic Survey. These findings have been described as a “truly amazing” comeback of these, our largest whales, which were on the brink of extinction. The blue whales returning in numbers to Antarctica signals a conservation triumph.

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    1. And goodness knows we need a good news story once in a while. Now if only we could get rid of those plastics and stop dumping more.......

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  5. Jag har aldrig sett en val i hela mitt liv och kommer sannolikt inte att göra det heller men det saknar betydelse i sammanhanget. Haven är snart utfiskade, korallreven bleknar och dör med allt sitt rika liv, våra vatten fylls med plast och annan skit som vår konsumtion lämnar efter sig och här i Sverige pågår en intensiv debatt om att politikerna satt några kronors skatt på plastpåsar, vi lever i ett överflöd och folk tycker det är höjden av oförskämdhet att en plastpåse som de ska använda som soppåse kostar några kronor mer.
    Mänskligheten har aldrig varit så upplyst som nu men människan har gjort en lång resa på sin väg från naturen och förstår inte naturens betydelse för vår egen existens. Vi är inte jordens herrar som vi så gärna vill tro, utan naturen och fungerande ekosystem kommer livet att bli synnerligen problematiskt för oss alla. Valarna i havet är lika viktiga som maskarna i våra trädgårdar. Vi har så länge använt våld och kemikalier för att tvinga naturen att ge oss det vi vill ha. Vi kan välja att återfinna naturen och leva i samklang med den men jag börjar bli desillusionerad.

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    1. It is hard not to share in your disillusionment, Gunilla. I think it is called realism. The answer to plastic bags is not to charge a token amount for them, it is to ban them altogether. One of our very large supermarket chains has recently ceased providing them.

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  6. This sounds wonderful, David, and I will try to get it from our local library. Thanks for the review and recommendation. Have a great weekend, regards, Valerie

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  7. Cetaceans are a fascinating group, particularly in how they evolved to be air-breathing mammals that live their lives in water. Nature is endlessly creative. If there is a niche, one can be sure that she will fill it!

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  8. The book is a very important landmark of the present time. Over 50 years there will be other coordinates - the water world is subjected to a continuous assault, through aggressive fishing and pollution.

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    1. I think it is a leap of faith to conclude that we will be here in fifty years.

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  9. Hello David,
    It looks like a beautiful book! I have bever seen a whale like Gunilla. I hope they will survive forever!

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  10. They are fascinating. They are beautiful. They are awe inspiring. As is true of far too many of the species other than our greedy selves.
    Thanks David. Yet another book to lust after.

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  11. I have never seen a whale, nor am I ever likely to journey to see them, but I like the idea that they are there. My little neighbour tells me that he likes "aquatic creatures", which have apparently overtaken dinosaurs in his list of enthusiasms. He wants to go to the Zoology Museum where there's a Blue Whale skeleton. His grasp of biology is apparently better than his mathematics - he told me he'll be 5 and a half on his next birthday! (?) I hope that there are still whales for him to see when he's older.

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    1. Sounds like a little boy whose curiosity should be nurtured. And I am happy to see that he is grasping fractions at an early age!

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  12. Buenas tardes amigo David, esta es otra gran locura de la humanidad. No se pueden concebir los océanos sin estos bellos cetáceos. Es un locura más de las muchas líneas rojas que el ser humano a traspasado y que son de consecuencias irreparables. Para cuando la sensatez y el sentido común de respetar todo aquello que nos brinda la naturaleza y que en mayor o menor medida dependemos o nos ayuda en nuestra propia subsistencia.
    Un gran libro que no debe faltar en ningún estante de biblioteca.
    Un fuerte abrazo mi querido amigo y compadre David.

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  13. Hari OM
    I am with the 'whoop whoop for this book' (and your review) group! Having had the privilege of seeing several cetaceans in my travels, as well as the effects of changing environment upon them, I too am concerned for their welfare. AS well as all creatures of the sea. The state of the Barrier Reef is distressing... but that's going off topic. YAM xx

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    1. Only slightly off topic, YAM. It all relates to the overall (and incessant) degradation of the oceans of the world.

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  14. A wonderful review of this book David, thank you.

    All the best Jan

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  15. First time I saw a whale we 3 teachers took our classes out on a class trip. I gasped.

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  16. This is such a great review, David. As someone who lives close to the ocean where whales are often seen I truly feel blessed to be able to witness the spectacle that whales often offer. Right now we're experiencing the spring migration of the gray whales - no matter how often we see those whales, it's always like a very special gift. We also often spot humpbacks, and seeing them breaching is a real spectacle. No, I never ever want to miss them.

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  17. Quite a good review. I'll suggest it to our library, and see if I can get it through interlibrary loan. I was pleased to see your mention of that glossary; it helps to make texts accessible to people less familiar with the subject at hand.

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  18. Appears to be a wonderful book and one that I will be looking out for. My Grandson has an interest so will make a perfect gift for when he visits next. The glossary sounds like a wonderful addition and will certainly help. Thank you for your review.

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  19. Hi, David. This, from your expertly crafted description, seems to be a book that I'd love to own and read - I just wish that my pelagic opportunities were more frequent so that I could get greater benefit from it. As I've said before, it's not possible to be much further from the sea in UK than we are.

    With regard to plastic polution, I'm on the verge of total despair. Recently, during a supermarket visit, I started noticing that pretty-much every second trolley was piled high with packs of small plastic bottles of 'spring water'. I find this uncomprehensible, given that there's been so much publicity about plastic polution, and the fact that tap water is safer for one's health than bottled water (and cheaper too!). I felt like saying something to these people, but realised that I might not survive the experience - people this stupid are likely to act stupidly if confronted!

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    1. The same situation confronts us here too, Richard. And the supermarkets regularly have it on sale. The only solution is a government ban.if we leave it up to the average citizen it is never going to happen.

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  20. Hello, great book and review. I love seeing the whales, mostly on the west coast, in Washington state. I worry about all the sealife and the environment. Enjoy your day, wishing you a happy new week !

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  21. A very important book of magnificent, fascinating animals.
    There should be harbour porpoises in our coastal waters but, living far from the coast, I don't know if they are easily seen. In the Baltic Sea, the populations are threatened. Our joining the EU (in 1995) has helped them, fortunately!

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  22. I dearly love the animals the book describes. Sounds like a great resource for anyone who loves sea creatures.

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  23. Hi David – amazing book … and yes I love having glossaries in my books; it does sound as though this is a very comprehensive book, especially with the maps and details included.

    Gosh I see that Mark Carwardine is British … I’d never heard of him … now I’ll pay more attention. He seems to be very well respected here … makes sense via your review of this book. Thank you … cheers Hilary

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    1. Carwardine is well known and well respected in his field, Hilary.

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  24. Great-looking book. My brother lives on Vancouver Isl, and took me wahle watching. There were 7 in a row, sleeping, going under the boat. Very cool!

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    1. The only time that I have gone whale watching off the west coast was from San Diego, CA and we saw seventeen Grey Whales. That was very spectacular but so were all the pelagic birds! One day I would love to see Orcas in the waters around Vancouver Island.

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  25. C'est un livre qui a l'air très intéressant!
    Peut-être sera t'il disponible aussi bientôt en France.
    Bonne soirée

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  26. Dit moet ongetwijfeld een mooi boek zijn, Je hebt een veelzijdige blog schitterend kijk er er graag in.
    Groet Kees.

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  27. Enjoy ticking off those species! I felt very privileged last year to see some of our endemic Hector's Dolphins frolicking off the coast at Moerangi.

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  28. I can imagine you as a little boy, loving nature and so curious about those water creatures! This looks like a handsome and very useful book. Well reviewed, my friend.

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  29. Me parece muy interesante amigo David. Un abrazo.

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  30. Very interesting review and a beautiful book.
    Greetings.

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