Friday, August 12, 2011

Antarctic Widlife - A Visitor's Guide

Antarctic Wildlife - A Visitor's Guide. Published in the U.S. and Canada by Princeton University Press (a review copy was provided to me by Princeton University Press). First published by WILDGuides in the U.K.
Paper 2011 $22.95 ISBN: 9780691150338 240 pp. 5 x 8 159 color photos.

I like this book. I was a bit skeptical that the promised information could be packed in this small of a book, but it delivered. This is a big plus for those of you planning a trip to Antarctica where packing a heavy book (or books) in addition to the litany of required outdoor gear and cameras can be quite a chore. To date, the best Antarctic wildlife book is The Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife: Birds and Marine Mammals of the Antarctic Continent and the Southern Ocean by Hadoram Shirihai. It is complete, but it is also heavy. The Antarctic Wildlife A Visitor's Guide can't compete at this level, and it doesn't even try. At the onset the author states that this book is not a comprehensive biological reference work, nor is it a site by site visitors guide or a guide to the amazing underwater life of Antarctica. It is, as stated, a photographic field guide to wildlife of the Antarctic peninsula, "devised to meet the wildlife watching needs of passengers on Antarctic cruise ships leaving from South America" And it is all of that. The author does a nearly impossible chore of providing enough information to satisfy the advanced and well prepared wildlife watcher as well as those whose interests in Antarctic wildlife are peripheral to setting foot on their seventh continent.

Much of the book is composed of well done species accounts of the animals you might encounter while on a cruise, each accompanied by representative photos. The more popular species such as the penguins have a greater number of photos which illustrate behaviors and life history, while others like the albatrosses have more photo to help differentiate species. The information and accompanying photos are concise, but are more than adequate to identify most of the species you could encounter, from flowering plants to albatrosses and elephant seals, and everything in between.

The visitors guide also breaks down a typical trip to Antarctica into species associated with the Beagle Channel, the Drake Passage, and the Antarctic Peninsula to help refine your identification possibilities and provides a description of each of these distinct regions. In addition the book also describes conservation in Antarctica, what a typical trip to the Peninsula entails, what the trip might look like at different times of the year, how to enhance your trip, and much more.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone planning on making a trip to Antarctica. I have made this trip a number of times over the last 15 years. Early on I didn't have many field guides to pack because there just weren't any to be found. Then came the time when I had at least three, if not more, on each trip. Now, if I could only take only one book with me, this would be it for sure. Now I just need to figure out how to field test it.....

Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Antarctic Peninsula, December 2008.

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