Scoop Review of Books

A whale of a time

Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa New Zealand by Barbara Todd (Te Papa Press, $44:99)
Review by Nikki Slade Robinson

Whales_floatYou could be excused for confusing the title of Te Papa Press’ new Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa New Zealand with the fairly recent release Dolphins of Aotearoa from Craig Potton Publishing. However despite the similar titles and beautiful production, the books are very different. For someone passionate about marine life, both titles would sit nicely alongside each other on the bookshelf.

Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa New Zealand is a stunning soft-cover publication, around 300 pages, beautifully designed, and packed with captivating photos and graphics on every spread. The information is very accessible and comprehensive, making this an ideal reference book for anyone, children included, to learn more about these incredible creatures.

Yet it is not just a reference book – it is a book that can be read for pleasure: either dipped into, or read cover to cover. While the content includes relevant information from around the globe, including covering New Zealand’s role internationally on whaling issues and on the IWC (International Whaling Commission), it is specific to New Zealand.

The book is divided into three main sections. Part one is ‘All about Whales’ (read cetacean – whales, dolphins and porpoises). A clear explanation is given of how our planet and life on it changed over the millennia, giving rise to modern-day whales and dolphins. All aspects of their life – communication, breeding, feeding and so on – are covered. If I’m to be kina prickly, I should observe one error on the map of whale strandings, with Poverty Bay (near Gisborne) marked as being in the mid-Bay of Plenty. But don’t let this put you off the book.

Part two looks at the relationship between whales and man: legend, history, whaling, protests, through to the conservation and research work being done today. There is also a short section on encounters between people and cetaceans, including the well-known dolphin, Moko.

Finally, part three has an identification guide to cetaceans found in New Zealand waters. Each cetacean has a side-on illustration, a size guide as compared with a human, basic facts, and clear information on etymology (origin of name), description, and behaviour. Also within this section are pages with more in-depth information on other aspects of the species covered.

Throughout the book photographs, illustrations, diagrams and ‘Fascinating Fact’ boxes keep the interest level high. There really is so much in here to enjoy. If you are familiar with the quality of information and graphics in Andrew Crowe’s insect books, or in Dorling Kindersley books (albeit that DK aims at a younger audience), this book would rank right up there with those.

Comparing this to the earlier release, I think Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa New Zealand has a wider age appeal given the more visual nature, and the way the information is presented. As the title says, it covers the broader cetacean group as opposed to focussing on dolphins. Dolphins of Aotearoa is also a worthy book, but by being more text-heavy, is more suitable for an adult reader wanting an in-depth dolphin-centred read. As I said, though, both are excellent books, and would happily sit together without undue repetition.

I would highly recommend Whales and Dolphins of Aotearoa New Zealand for anyone interested in whales and dolphins, or for public and school libraries. It is a truly gorgeous book.