DOLPHIN DIARIES

MY TWENTY-FIVE YEARS WITH SPOTTED DOLPHINS IN THE BAHAMAS

A cetologist chronicles her 25 field-season summers studying generations of Atlantic spotted dolphins.

Beginning in 1985, Herzing, then in her early 30s, traveled to an area in the Bahamas, a known home to families of friendly dolphins, and began tracking them, analyzing behavioral traits and the courting and mating habits of what she believes to be “one of the most advanced nonhuman intelligence on the planet.” Initially taking an anthropological approach, she quickly realized that an interactive, participatory methodology would play a more critical role in her research. So she dove in, equipped with scuba gear, cameras and a “hydrophone” for video-recording the dolphins’ highly expressive underwater vocalizations and behavior. Herzing passionately writes of her first summer cautiously immersed in the marine mammal’s world of clicks and whistles, their playtime and foreplay and in naming the dolphins and ultimately reconstructing elaborate family trees. Though it would take her five years to establish some semblance of shared trust and solace with the apprehensive dolphin pods, the many summers that followed only served to reinforce the author’s enthusiasm and perseverance for the wide-eyed observation of mothers and calves, their babysitting mystique, intricate interspecies relations (humans included) and elaborate communication coding. The author’s liberal use of “anthropomorphizing” (ascribing emotions to the dolphins) only adds to the exploration’s allure, especially when threatening elements like storms, dangerous water currents and hungry sharks enter the picture. Herzing’s fervent work became disrupted, however, by three hurricanes the 2004-5 seasons, which displaced many of the dolphins she’d been meticulously documenting. Inspired by the pioneering work of Jacques Cousteau, Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, Herzing’s focused, captivating account concludes with moving animal-rights arguments centered around the injustices foisted upon defenseless cetaceans and the many other species senselessly killed or held in cruel captivity.  

 

Pub Date: July 5, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-312-60896-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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A history more splendid than any maharaja’s golden howdah. (b&w illustrations throughout)

ELEPHAS MAXIMUS

A PORTRAIT OF THE INDIAN ELEPHANT

A celebration of the Indian elephant, though the animal’s current precarious circumstances make this a cautionary tale as well.

While Alter (All the Way to Heaven, 1998, etc.) has spent many years in the subcontinent, this work stems from a series of journeys he made throughout India during 2001–02, ranging from Assam to Dehradun to the southern tip. It’s a story well and fondly told, of myth and art and great Indian masterworks, with a smattering (which is all that’s really known) of natural history about the Indian elephant’s behavior and biology. Alter notes that only a small percentage of Indian elephants live in national parks; the majority roam in forest reserves and private land, leaving them vulnerable to habitat encroachment and poaching. Dividing his time equally between scouring ancient texts and observation in the field, the author finds a close braiding of intimate knowledge of the elephant with the creature’s mythological status. In some instances they are portly, playful gods, in others emblems of authority, such as war elephants. As scholarly as Alter can be, he also has a knack for describing the elephants’ landscape: a gilded-green river under a saffron sky, flowers and birds flashing orange and turquoise, groves of bamboo and ordered ranks of teak trees. He works the animal’s contradictory status as both “an emblem of desire, the image of gajagamini—a woman whose walk is as seductive as an elephant’s,” and as a marauding raider, ruining a farmer’s crop in a night. The elephant’s survival cannot be assured solely by creating sanctuaries, Alter warns: it requires a “sustained commitment” from state and citizen alike.

A history more splendid than any maharaja’s golden howdah. (b&w illustrations throughout)

Pub Date: May 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-15-100646-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2004

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Macho prose full of praise for would-be warriors and the men who train them, seemingly designed to enthrall young men, boost...

CHOSEN SOLDIER

THE MAKING OF A SPECIAL FORCES WARRIOR

Former Navy SEAL Couch redeploys the you-are-there approach of The Warrior Elite (2001) to depict the grueling training undergone by Army Special Forces Class 8-04.

Popularly known as the Green Berets, this elite program has a graduation rate of less than one in five. Beginning in August 2004, the author stayed for ten months at Camp Mackall in North Carolina, following the men closely as they were winnowed and hardened by the Special Forces Qualification Course and subsequent specialized training programs. First, however, Couch gives civilian readers some basic information about the mission and organization of Special Forces, a group that he believes is essential to winning the global war on terrorism. Standards are high, and candidates undergo mental and psychological screening as well as physical and professional assessment. The Green Berets, Couch stresses, are soldier-teachers who must be able to connect with and train local people to battle insurgents in their own country. Using lots of army acronyms and lingo, the veteran novelist (Silent Descent, 1993, etc.) creates an on-the-spot picture of the men’s tough, dirty and exhausting daily life. Couch not only observes and reports on the exceptionally demanding classroom- and field-training, he interviews many students and their instructors. Class members, here given pseudonyms, seem to talk freely about their reasons for being in the program and their reactions to the training; staff comments about the men (including those who leave, voluntarily or involuntarily) are also frank.

Macho prose full of praise for would-be warriors and the men who train them, seemingly designed to enthrall young men, boost recruitment and please the army.

Pub Date: March 6, 2007

ISBN: 0-307-33938-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2006

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