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.
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
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