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HOME > ON THE BOOKSHELF > March-April 2000 > Bookshelf Detail

BOOK REVIEW

Serious Intent

John Calambokidis

Biology of Marine Mammals. John E. Reynolds III and Sentiel A. Rommel, eds. viii + 578 pp. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999. $75.

Conservation and Management of Marine Mammals. Randall R. Reeves and John R. Twiss, Jr., eds. xi + 471 pp. Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999. $60.

The history of marine mammal management and conservation has not been pretty. Many species were exploited with little regard for conservation or management until it was no longer feasible to hunt them. Even attempts at scientific management have often failed. Recent successes based on new approaches have led to recoveries in many populations, although many marine mammal species remain at depressed levels.

Against this backdrop come two books that make an excellent contribution to marine-mammal biology and fill a gap in this field. Although there are many books on marine mammals, often they are aimed at the nonscientific audience and end up on coffee tables. Other recent books on this topic emphasize individual species, not a more comprehensive examination of biological aspects or management issues of this diverse animal group. Biology of Marine Mammals covers functional morphology, energetics, reproduction and behavior. One thorough chapter reviews marine-mammal sensory systems and provides a very detailed description of vocalizations and hearing, a topic that has seen extensive recent scientific inquiry. Another excellent chapter, "Environmental Contaminants and Marine Mammals," not only provides an excellent review but also includes several appendices that summarize a large number of studies. Unfortunately, the topic seems slightly out of place (and may have fit better in its companion, which raises this issue in several places).

These volumes are written by recognized experts in marine mammal research and management. Each chapter includes extensive citations and each section a bibliography. They also are laden with helpful figures and illustrations, original and from other publications. Conservation and Management of Marine Mammals highlights specific marine-mammal management conflicts and case histories, including pinniped predation on salmon in the Pacific Northwest and the tuna-dolphin controversy. It explores broader issues that include changes in attitudes toward marine mammals and relevant ecosystem processes and concepts. The book's organization can be puzzling. For example, there are two chapters on the Hawaiian monk seal, one dealing with biology and the other with management; this is a cumbersome separation.

One omission worth noting is the lack of a single chapter devoted to marine-mammal evolution, addressed only superficially across several chapters. This has been a topic of recent interest as molecular and genetic techniques have challenged long-held beliefs about evolution.

The final chapter is the farthest reaching and identifies guiding principles for marine mammal conservation—guidelines of humility, precaution and reversibility that will help make management efforts successful.

These books complement each other and serve a variety of functions. They make interesting reading and together provide an excellent review of these species and of key management and conservation issues. They are valuable as college-level texts and as reference books.—John Calambokidis, Cascadia Research and Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington

 

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