Aug 2, 2015

TBR from reading and browsing

I had a chance to visit the public library without my kids, so browsed the shelves at leisure. Brought home a few books to read, but couldn't possible carry (or find time for) all the ones that caught my eye, so I wrote down a list of titles to go back for later. Some of these are also from references listed in recent reads:
Beneath the Surface by John Hargrove
Amazing Rare Things by David Attenborough
Smithsonian Natural History Kathryn Hennessy
The Amateur Naturalist by Nick Baker
Secret Lives of Common Birds by Marie Read
Captivating Bluebirds by Stan Tekiala
Life Along the Delaware Bay by Niles, Berger, Dey et al
The Bonobo and the Atheist by F.B.M. de Waal
Giraffe Reflections by Dale Peterson
Wolf: Legend, Enemy, Icon by Rebecca L. Grambo
Whitetail Tracks by Valerius Geist
The Odyssey of KP2 by Terrie M. Williams
The Last Unicorn by William DeBuys
Wild Ones by Jon Mooallem
The Way of the Panda by Henry Nicholls
The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell
The Great White Bear by Kieran Mulvaney
Among Giants by Charles Nicklin and K.M. Kostyal
The Intimate Ape by Shawn Thompson
Tibet Wild by George B. Schaller
Into Great Silence by Eva Saulitis
Last Chain on Billie by Carol Bradley
The Black Rhinos of Namibia by Rick Bass
An Indomitable Beast by Alan Rabinowitz
A Sting in the Tale by David Goulson
Ten Million Aliens by Simon Barnes

Wild Animals in Captivity by Heini Hediger
Zoo: a History of Zoological Gardens by Eric Baratay
A Different Nature: the Pradoxical World of Zoos by David Hancocks
Sea Otters by Marianne Riedman
Sea Otters by John A. Love
Sea Otters a Natural History and Guide by Roy Nickerson
The World of the Sea Otter by Stephanie Paine

Aug 1, 2015

Death at SeaWorld

Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity
by David Kirby

This book is about the controversy over keeping orcas in captivity. If you've seen the film Blackfish, it's the same topic, although much broader in scope. It's not all about SeaWorld, it does discuss other marine parks and some studies of orcas in the wild.  Kirby goes into a ton of detail, particularly about the background of various people involved and what led them to work with orcas. By the second half of the book I realized its main focus was the 2010 incident when a male orca killed an experienced trainer during a show. There is a lot of detail about what happened afterwards, especially the legal tangle that ensued. Kirby attempts to fairly portray both sides- presenting what the captive marine industry has to say and their defenses, but its pretty apparent that the book leans in the anti- camp. It seems his main source was Naomi Rose, a wildlife scientist who works for the Humane Society- there's a lot about her. Practically a portrait of the life and work of Naomi Rose, in many ways. It became hard to read- because of the horrific scenes described when trainers were injured or killed by captive whales, the suffering of the animals (especially compared to the condition and behavior of their wild kin) and the tedious recitation of facts which, although informative, make for very dull reading. I would have rather read more about the whales themselves, this book is mostly focused on industry practices, events and people. However I learned a lot about what goes on and honestly I'm appalled that marine parks still keep orcas for display and entertainment after what has happened. They seem very unsuitable for life in captivity. Read more here.

I borrowed this book from the public library, found it while browsing the shelves.

Rating: 3/5        469 pages, 2012


Jul 28, 2015

Sea Otters

by Glenn VanBlaricom

A nice introduction to sea otters, this short book tells a lot about their biology, lifestyle and interactions with people, including the often negative consequences. How otters cope with living in the cold water, their diet, what is known about their breeding habits and life cycle, methods used to study them and so on. I didn't know there are two species of otter that use ocean waters- marine otters rest and breed on land and only the sea otter spends its entire life in the water. As a key predator otters influence their environment significantly- they must eat a lot to keep up body heat so they actually compete with shellfish harvesting. Ironically this wasn't even an industry until otter populations were decimated by fur hunters. On the other hand, otters keep down numbers of sea urchins which can consume so much plant and algae life they turn large areas of ocean floor into an aquatic desert. It's a complicated issue. I was surprised to learn that even though otter populations had recovered encouragingly since hunting them was banned in 1911, they had a seventy percent population decline in the decade prior to this book's publication. Their new threats are conflicts with fishing industries, pollution and oil spills, poaching for illegal fur trade, legal harvest by native tribal groups and a shift in feeding habits by orcas- which now often eat otters.

Sea otters are so charming, and the pictures in this book are very appealing. I learned why sea otters perform those amusing contortions in the water, rolling with their paws held up (seen in a lot of cute videos posted online)- they like to keep their paws dry when resting (keeps them warmer) but have to roll themselves to stay anchored in the kelp which gradually unravels as the wind and waves move.

I picked up this book at a discard sale. You might think from its length and numerous large pictures that it's juvenile non-fiction but the writing is quite sophisticated. An easy read in one sitting for me, however it might be a bit beyond my ten-year-old.Very educational, interesting reading and good quality photographs. I have a number of books from this WorldLife Library series published by Voyageur Press, and they're all good.

Rating: 4/5      72 pages, 2001

Jul 27, 2015

The Lost Whale

by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm

In 2001 a small killer whale was seen in Nootka Sound, separated from his family group. He hung around there for five years. Apparently skilled and outgoing for such a young orca- at four years old and living solo he had no trouble catching fish to eat. The whale was approaching boats and acted very interested in people. His friendliness won him a lot of fans- people started travelling from afar to go out on the water and see this little whale that would come up to the side of a boat, nudge the sides, roll at the surface to look at people, flip his fins around and lob his tail, spyhop and surf the boat's wave- you name it. But when the whale grew bigger and got bolder it became a serious problem. He interfered with the passage of vessels, frightened people by lifting their boats out of the water, broke a number of propellers and rudders. People worried about serious damage or injury when he played around seaplanes and approached kyakers. There was a lot of public conflict over the fate of this whale- many said he should be left alone, which was difficult to enforce when the whale deliberately approached people. Others thought it cruel to deny the whale contact when he obviously sought it out. First Nations groups saw the whale as an embodiment of their ancestor and felt honored by his presence in their waters, they actively thwarted capture efforts. Attempts to relocate the whale or lead him back to his migrating pod would cost a lot, with little promise of success. Many worried that if the whale was captured he would not actually be relocated but end up in an aquarium instead. The book is all written in a very matter-of-fact reporting style, with here and there some lovely descriptions of the moods of the ocean or the texture of the water's surface. I mainly read through the whole thing just to see where the orca ended up. I'd never heard of this story before.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5      330 pages, 2013

Jul 23, 2015

Now You See Me

from Endangered to Extinction
by Diane Brischke

This book is a call to action on behalf of endangered wild animals. It highlights twenty very recognizable species- cheetah, elephant, panda, manatee, wolf, iguana, parrot, rhinoceros, etc and tells briefly what kinds of threats they face from mankind including pollution, habitat loss, climate change, poaching and population decline due to the pet trade. Sadly, it is not a book I can recommend. I expected from the large format to find gorgeous photographs inside, but only a few are excellent in quality, the rest are just okay. I know the book is directed at younger readers, but still it seemed overly simplified and very repetitive. Not much real information was shared, mostly generalizations about animals loosing habitat and facing the end: extinction. Except- some of them aren't in that dire of a situation yetBlack bears are featured in this book, yet the IUCN lists this bear as being of "least concern" and National Geographic says "this is the only bear species considered secure throughout its range". Sloths are also "of least concern." Leopards are "threatened". So why are they in this book? There are far more species seriously critically endangered that could have been included.

Aside from that, I found it annoying to read because of the numerous typos, odd punctuation, run-on sentences and awkward phrases that seemed to be missing words, so they made no sense. I often had to read a sentence two or three times. The book really needed a better editor. White text on various dark and colored backgrounds was a poor choice, it's a headache for my eyes. I can only imagine this would be frustrating and disappointing for kids to read, as it was for me.

I received a copy of this book for review.

Rating: 1/5      52 pages, 2014

Jul 22, 2015

The Octopus and the Orangutan

by Eugene Linden

What, exactly, is the nature of intelligence? This book looks at a wide variety of animal behaviors that baffle or surprise people, because they display a level of intelligence and ingenuity that we like to reserve for ourselves. Most of the incidents described here are encounters wild animals have with people in captive settings, not in the kind of measured experiment scientists use for proof. So it's anecdotal evidence, things we can only surmise and guess at what they might really mean in terms of how much the animal actually understands. I was actually expecting a lot more stories, but appreciated what I got- the author takes pains to examine the background of each incident presented, and goes into depth considering all the implications and possible explanations. There are stories of animals using deception, offering comfort, using tools in new ways (at least not seen by humans before), communicating across species, hiding their intentions and negotiating for rewards. The discussion ranges all over- sometimes I got impatient when it seemed to veer off topic (away from the animals), but the author always had a point. Lots of ideas that I'm still thinking about. Orangutans and octopuses are held up as key examples of intelligence but the book also features squirrels, orcas, elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, starlings, dogs, horses and more.

I found this book at a thrift shop.

Rating: 4/5      242 pages, 2002

Jul 21, 2015

extra TBR

Most of these book titles I came across as references listed in the back of The Soul of an Octopus; the rest of them I happened across while looking for the former in the library's online catalog. Add to the list!
Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms by Richard Fortey
Sex, Drugs and Sea Slime by Ellen Prager
Still Life with Chickens by Catherine Goldhammer
A Farm Dies Once a Year by Arlo Crawford
Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas
One-Woman Farm by Jenna Woginrich
Growing a Farmer by Kurt Timmermeister
Octopus the Ocean's Intelligent Invertebrate by Roland Anderson
Window to the Sea by John Grant
Super Suckers by James Cosgrove
Octopus and Squid: the Soft Intelligence by Jacques Yves Cousteau
The Outermost House by Henry Beston
The House of Paper by Carlos Maria Dominguez- So Many Books

Jul 20, 2015

The Soul of an Octopus

by Sy Montgomery

The octopus is an alien intelligence, right here on earth. These creatures are fascinating. Sy Montgomery wowed me as usual. She's one of my favorite nature writers- always accessible, easy to get immersed in her stories, I can't put the book down. She tells about getting to know several octopuses in succession at a public aquarium behind the scenes, becoming a priveledged enough visitor to receive an access badge and herself answering questions about the animal for visitors. Ocotopuses have a very short lifespan in spite of all their smarts (three to four years at best) so the aquarium usually had a younger one adjusting to life in captivity behind the scenes when the current octopus on display began to age. They each had their own personality, some appearing to like the company and attention of humans, others not. They presented different challenges- a bored octopus will cause trouble by attempting to escape or eating its tankmates, so the aquarium staff have to find toys to amuse it or make food puzzles to keep it occupied. In between visits to the aquarium tanks, Montgomery took diving lessons and made forays into the ocean with guided groups, hoping to observe wild octopuses (they're hard to find). She also relates many interesting things about many other fish and invertebrates at the aquarium or that she encountered on the ocean dives, and talks about her developing friendships with other octopus fans, how contact with the octopus changed some of their lives. Mostly it is full of wonder for this strange, incredible animal and knowledge shared. And now I want to read more about octopus, must find more books. There's several on my list, but I haven't been able to find copies yet...

I borrowed this book from my public library.

Rating: 4/5       261 pages, 2015

Jul 17, 2015

The Book of Animal Ignorance

by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson

A book full of really odd and intriguing facts about animals. Lots of things I never heard of before. Made me constantly blurt out an astonished "did you know-??" to my husband if he happened to be in the room when I was reading, and jot things down to look up online later- yeah, they're true. It's organized in alphabetical order and tells about all kinds of interesting critters, from the unusual (naked mole rats, tardigrade aka "water bears", quolls) to the more commonly known worms, rabbits, monkeys, fleas, you name it. Surprising bits of information on all of them. It reminded me a lot of those "True Facts About the [insert animal name]" videos you find on youtube with the deep voice narrating, because of the amount of crazy information about how animals mate. From anatomy to behavior, animals have more strange ways of doing it than I had ever imagined!

Some things that really jumped out at me: polar bears will eat toothpaste. Apparently they find the smell of it irresistible. There is a moth that smells like goats (and another one that smells like chocolate). The area of an echidna's brain that has to do with reasoning and personality is very large in proportion to the rest of it- even bigger than that in "higher" mammals. No one's figured out why. Female ferrets actually get sick if they're not mated when in heat. Also: ferrets have been used to thread cables through long tunnels or pipes, and Boeing used them to run cables through inaccessible parts of airplanes- until apparently the ferrets started getting bored and taking naps halfway through finishing their task! Some frogs will vomit by turning their stomach inside out and cleaning it with their hands before swallowing it again! (I think that's nearly as gross as the sea cucumber's defensive mechanism of vomiting up its guts). The giraffe's tongue is dark blue to keep it from getting sunburned (it is used so much to pluck leaves off trees). Echidnas may appear brainy for their size, koalas are not. Their brain is so small it floats in the cranial cavity, surrounded by twice as much empty space! There is a calculator made from the neurons of leeches?? I don't understand this one, really. There is a specific species of louse that infects almost every animal- except for bats, echidnas and the platypus (why?) The Romans used to eat parrots, when their novelty as pets wore off. There is a species of rabbit that has stripes- it is extremely rare. The tuatara (primitive reptile related to lizards) has a third eye. An earthworm has ten hearts!

Very interesting article this book lead me to look up: Humboldt's Parrot: Endangered species and endangered languages. Want to know more crazy stuff about animals? Read the book!

Rating: 3/5      241 pages, 2007