Monday, January 6, 2014

Nonfiction Monday: The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner, photographs by Scott Tuason

Pamela Turner's previous entries in the Scientists in the Field series include the award-winning Frog Scientist and Project Seahorse. I've read both but never got around to reviewing them, but I was expecting something similar for her latest book.

At first, I was disappointed. "Where's the insight into the scientists' lives?" I wondered. Where's the description of local inhabitants and how their lives intersect with the animals?" "Where are the detailed photographs to pore over?" But the more I read the book, the more I realized it's a really good entry in the Scientists in the Field series, even if it's not a typical one.

Most Scientists in the Field titles have a blend of science, biography, and sometimes history. We get to know the scientists intimately, more so than the animals they study. In this book, this is reversed. Although we learn snatches about the lives of the various scientists involved in studying the dolphins and some history about the Shark Bay area, the real focus of the book is the dolphins. This works well with the subject of the book which is studying how and if dolphins pass learned behavior, like tool use, through teaching or genetics or a mixture of both. There are lots and lots of photos of dolphins. I have horrible eyesight, so they all look the same to me (same reason I would make an awful birdwatcher) but I can admire the artistry even though I can't discern distinct dolphins.

The back matter includes additional information and anecdotes about the dolphins, resources, and a column of latest news of the dolphins and humans in the book.

Verdict: This is a really well-written book and even managed to hold my interest, although I normally have zero interest in dolphins or behavioral science. It's not going to have the wide appeal of most of the Scientists in the Field titles, which contain enough human interest to attract readers even if they're not interested in the particular subject, but it's definitely going to have an audience. I don't have any kids interested in behavioral science at my library (or not that I'm aware of anyways) but oh boy do I have kids interested in dolphins. Hand this to your obsessive dolphin fans and they'll find themselves learning about research, science, animal behavior, and more without even knowing it. [Brief warning note: If you have parents of the "dolphins are our loving friends that will heal us all" or the "my child is not going to be sullied by any suggestion of reproductive processes until they are of marriageable age" persuasion, they're probably not going to like the descriptions of mating behavior, although they are not graphic or really described in much detail at all.

ISBN: 9780547716381; Published 2013 by Houghton Mifflin; Review copy provided by author

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