BOOKS: STERLING REFERENCES

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1999:

STERLING REFERENCES
Bears Of The World by Paul Ward & Susanne Kynaston
Bugs Of The World by George C. McGavin
Rodents Of The World by David Alderton
Seals & Sea Lions Of The World by Nigel Bonner
All from Blandford Ltd. (distributed by Sterling Publishing Co., 387 Park Ave.
South, New York, NY 10016-8810), 1999. 192-224 pages, paperback. $19.95.
Penguins: A Worldwide Guide
by Remy Marion
Illustrated by Sylvaine Maigret-Mondry
Also distributed by Sterling. 156 pages, hardcover. $22.95.

Among the wealth of new animal reference
works from Blandford Ltd. and Sterling
Publishing, the firm’s U.S. distribution partner,
there is one––Seals & Sea Lions Of The
World––whose value I can personally affirm
from having used a predecessor volume, The
Natural History Of Seals, an average of about
once a month for 10 years.


The chief difference between the
1989 predecessor and the current edition,
besides the title, is that The Natural History Of
S e a l s was a sparsely illustrated hardcover;
Seals & Sea Lions Of The World, like all
Blandford/Sterling titles that we’ve seen, is an
extensively and beautifully illustrated paperback.
The text has been updated somewhat,
but author Nigel Bonner died in early 1995,
before Canada revived the full-scale offshore
harp seal hunt and several other nations also
escalated sealing in response to the complaints
of fishers about depleted fish stocks.
Nonetheless, Bonner had heard all
the arguments before, during his more than 40
years of studying seal/fishery interactions. On
pages 195-197, he anticipated the fishers’
case––as he also did in 1989––and pointed out
the fallacy of assuming that the fish seals eat
are among those the fishers could catch if the
seals did not exist.
Bonner explained then, for anyone
really interested in finding out the effects of
seal predation, the ecological principles that
must be incorporated into an accurate estimate,
and noted the scarcity of valid data.
The “Of The World” series authors
are all scientists, whose advocacy, if any, is
gentle, and whose emphasis is on the facts,
including the history of human interactions
with each species they consider.
Rodents Of The World author David
Alderton offers an especially broad perspective
and lucid style: one could read this book
straight through, not for reference but for pleasure.
Included are discussions of the origins of
the Pied Piper legend; the evolution and cultural
importance of Mickey Mouse; extinct
rodents, among them horned gophers and some
of hippopotamus size; and how to distinguish
differing species of similar name. Those who
equate “rodents” merely with rats, mice, and
maybe hamsters should come away with a far
greater appreciation for a family which includes
about 40% of all known mammals. (Bats are
another 50%, leaving just 10% among the primates,
carnivores, ungulates, cetaceans, etc.)
Bugs Of The World is contrastingly
technical. Since describing 930,000 known
species of insect would require covering about
5,000 per page to fit within the series format,
George C. McGavin covers them in a series of
overviews of anatomy, classification, disease
vector roles, defenses, feeding habits, reproduction,
and human use.
Bears Of The World is closer to the
Alderton approach, and has the virtue of being
able to compactly replace several larger but less
thorough references on our office shelves.
A word must be said about price: at
$19.95 each, the “Of The World” books are a
flat-out steal. Comparable references often go
for five times the price, but may get 20% of the
use in any school or personal library.
Penguins: A Worldwide Guide i s
also distributed by Sterling, as part of a rival
hardcover series, originally issued not by
Blandford but by Delachaux et Niestle of
Switzerland. Likewise priced to sell, the
“Worldwide Guides” meet the same high standard
for content. Penguins is particularly noteworthy
for an unflinching depiction of some of
the most appalling atrocities humans have ever
systematically inflicted on wildlife, for example
burning penguins en masse on Antarctic
islands during the 18th and 19th centuries to
melt down seal and whale blubber.
The opening chapter on “Origins and
Evolution” unfortunately uncritically repeats
the old but dubious argument that because penguins
and petrels share a common ancestor,
and have each undergone extensive adaptation
since diverging, penguins are essentially
petrels who forgot how to fly because they had
no land predators.
This claim overlooks the fact that
penguins have always had plenty of quick sea
predators, from whom flight would be a much
more certain escape than swimming to the nearest
land––perhaps dozens of miles away.
The real basis for the claim that penguins
once flew is not their relationship to protopetrel,
but rather the persistent belief that
dinosauria must have evolved flight only once
in 170 million years or so of development; that
all flighted birds must have originated then,
whenever then was; and that because birds
could fly from that point on, any later-evolving
birds must have had flighted ancestors––even
the giant and fairly primitive flightless ratites
such as ostriches and emus, whose hypothetical
flying relations have never been identified.
Sooner or later, bird evolutionists
may figure out that the reason they are finding
fossils of fully flighted birds who far predate
Archaeopteryx and the ratites is that birds no
more evolved flight all at once than whales,
polar bears, seals, and otters all evolved swimming
together, in a mere 20 million years.
Then they may recognize that there
isn’t really any logical or paleontological reason
to believe penguin ancestors ever flew,
even though protopenguin and protopetrel were
clearly cousins.

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