A complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife: the birds and marine mammals of the Antarctic Continent and Southern Ocean.

By Hadoram Shirihai and Brett Jarrett (2002) published by Alula Press, Degerby, Finland.

Now also available from Princeton University Press (ISBN: 0691114145), retailing for $49.50. Note the minor change to the title!

Review by Angus Wilson for Ocean Wanderers*

[*Please note: I am not affiliated with the publisher or authors but recognize this book to be of direct interest to readers of this web site.]


Original Alula cover (left) and new Princeton University Press cover (right).

Seabird and mammal fans alike will definitely want this superb new guide to the air-breathing wildlife of the Southern Ocean, including all of the subantarctic islands and the continent of Antarctica. There is a stunning synthesis of timely information packed into this meaty (510 pages, 1.5 kg) and beautifully produced book, coupled with hundreds of superb colour photographs (many by the primary author) and more than thirty-five excellent field guide-style painted plates by marine wildlife illustrator Brett Jarrett.

The book was first published by Alula Press, an offshoot of the superb Finnish birding magazine of same name, headed by Antero Topp and now released in the United States by Princeton University Press. Hadoram Shirihai should be familiar to birders for the major role he has played in bringing the Israeli birding scene to world attention and for authoring several outstanding books on European birds. For the last few years, Hadoram has shifted his sights to the oceans of the world and is coauthoring definitive guides to both the tubenoses and marine mammals of the planet. Reknowned ornithologist and wildlife editor Guy Kirwan also deserves credit. His expertise and skillful editing made an important contribution.

I have taken the liberty of scanning a few of Australian artist and marine wildlife expert Brett Jarrett's magnificent plates and a sample text page to give a better impression of the layout of the book. These are shown at low resolution to minimize copyright infringement but I hope they serve their purpose. As you can see, Jarrett seems equally at home with marine mammals and birds. His whale plates are some of the best I've seen.

As anyone interested in oceanic birds knows, seabird taxonomy is both complicated and in a constant state of flux. Shirihai does a solid job balancing on the taxonomic tight-rope, clearly acknowledging the many populations and forms that may qualify for specific status, without going as far as splitting them. This may not impress policy makers and some conservationists but seems a more honest reflection of our current state of knowledge. He is equally frank about major identification uncertainties. For example, urging real caution in the (sub)specific identification of Wandering Albatross-types away from their nesting islands, something I can vouch for after struggling with these magnificent but baffling creatures in the seas off New Zealand.

The book has an amazing collection of color photos which synergise beautifully with the paintings. Hopefully we will see a trend towards all field guides using both formats as a way buffer against the inherent weakness of still images. Nearly every page in the book has at least one photograph, often three or four. These are careful chosen and reproduced  with the same amazing quality seen in Alula magazine. Some photos offer fascinating glimpses into animal behaviour, whilst others simply show off the awe inspiring scenery that awaits the lucky visitor. The photos are well meshed with the text, consistent with the extremely professional design by Pekka J. Nikander. I am told the entire design and production was completed in three short months which is staggering. There are very few errors despite the crazy production schedule and the numbing scope of the project. The only gaps in the photograph collection are seen in the whale section, where obviously suitable photos of the rarer beaked whales are pretty hard to come by!

The distribution maps by Pekka J. Nikander and Peter Evans are remarkably clear and illustrate both breeding range and dispersal. My only comment would be that they don't clearly indicate the migratory routes of species which migrate out of the region (e.g. Mottled Petrel).

The book can be divided into three lengthy sections. First there is an extensive introduction to the region, human history and its wildlife. This is followed by the main field guide portion. Lastly, we are treated to a detailed tour of the region covered, which is literally a book in itself! All of the major subantarctic islands are covered in detail, as are primary jumping off points for exploration of the region, such as the tip of South America and South Africa, as well as locations in mainland New Zealand and Australia. The text is again richly studded with photos of hallmark species complemented by stunning landscapes. A quick skim leaves you wanting to visit each and everyone of these island groups!

To put it simply, no pelagic birder or whale watcher worth his or her salt should be without it! (Added 25 Sept 2002)

Now also available from Princeton University Press (ISBN: 0691114145), retailing for $49.50. Note the minor change to the title!

Page layout copyright of Angus Wilson© 2002 All rights reserved.

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