For a long time I have been searching for guides to help identify whales and dolphins in different parts of the world, but until recently there was very little practically-oriented literature available. In the last few years, that has changed and several groundbreaking regional identification guides are now available: for example Whales and Dolphins of the European Atlantic (Ocean Guides)
and Whales and Dolphins of the North American Pacific
. So the non-specialist or casual observer is now in with a fighting chance of identifying those dolphins seen on a coastal hike or whales encountered on a ferry crossing.
At the same time, several references on global marine mammals have appeared, of which Shirihai and Jarrett's compact guide is the best of the bunch. Why? First of all, this guide is compact. At under 400 pages, it is small enough to fit into a coat pocket, yet there is enough information to enable the user to identify (potentially) any marine mammal. So this volume is a true field guide. The book covers sirenians (manatees and dugongs), seals, coastal otters and other marine mammals as well as the cetaceans. The text is concise and emphasises key identification features, but there is still room for notes on behaviour and ecology. There are plenty of plates, both photographic and illustrated - all of them of very high quality. It is clear that author and artist have ample field experience have been able, through this book, to put this squarely at the disposal of the user. Finally, the book is printed on high quality glossy paper, which makes it a pleasure to leaf through at home.
So next time I am off on a trip with a chance of encountering whales or dolphins, I will be packing this handy guide in a addition to whatever regional guides I can get my hands on. Meanwhile, I am enjoying some armchair whale-watching as I leaf through the pages back home.
Chris Sharpe, 16 September 2008. ISBN: 0713670371