Friday, September 18, 2015

Book review: Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises

Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises:A Natural History and Species Guide

Annalisa Berta, ed.
U. of Chicago, 2015
288pp, large-format hardcover

Wow. I'm still digesting it, but this book is very impressive. 

In this overview of the cetacean world, Professor Berta marshals a variety of solid, up to date information, from whale biology and evolution to feeding techniques to range maps and field marks, with 2-4 page descriptions of 89 known species. Recent entrants like Daraniyagala's beaked whale, Omura's Whale, the Australian snubfin dolphin, and the narrow-ridged finless porpoise are all here. An interesting line in the long-finned pilot whale entry (by Jessica Aschettino, one of 37 named contributors) is "G.m. un-named subspecies." The killer whale section (by Robert Pitman) lists the animal as a single species with "at least six distinct ecotypes that may in fact represent different species or subspecies." Uncertainty about the exact delineations of minke whales, Bryde's, and others are also mentioned. For you mesoplodon fans, there are 22 species of beaked whale described in a section written by Randall Reeves. 
The book is beautiful as well as informative. Photographs and other illustrations are plentiful, well-labeled, and helpful. The text is authoritative but highly readable to the nonexpert like myself. 
The only quibble I have is with the physical book: the binding feels flimsy and the pages don't lie flat: handle it with care. (OK, there are two quibbles - killer whales deserve more than 2 pages, and there should be illustrations, at least silhouettes, of the differences between ecotypes).
Overall, though, this book is a magnificent achievement and a very useful reference.


Laurence Clark Crossen said...

I guess you have heard of the Omura's whales filmed off Madagascar? It's on CNN videos.

Matt Bille said...

Yes, that was really cool to see!