We live in an age of giants. The largest animals to have lived are not dinosaurs, or woolly mammoths, or saber- toothed tigers. They are whales. Right now, you are sharing the planet with the most enormous animal to have existed: the blue whale ... If you don’t care about whales, you should still read Spying on Whales. I didn’t give two hoots about them last week, but after reading Pyenson’s book, I’m obsessed. Pyenson writes engagingly — although he is slightly over-fond of the scene-setting purple passages that are almost obligatory in popular nonfiction nowadays. He is also guilty of some fairly lame jokes ... Nevertheless, this is a lively survey of the past, present and future of these magnificent animals, which includes enough of Pyenson’s scientific adventures to make you feel that you have a vague sense of what’s going on at the cutting-edge of cetacean science. Great stuff. Save the whales!
When a paleontologist writing about whales begins by quoting naturalist Henry Beston, 'They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time'—you know you are in for a wondrous read. And Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures by Nick Pyenson is indeed that ... Pyenson confesses that 'whales aren’t my destination: they are the gateway to a journey of discovery, across oceans and through time,' and he excels in taking his reader along on this journey ... The Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft carry whale-song recordings as greetings to alien life-forms, although their meanings are yet to be understood. Despite all that humans have learned about whales, these sounds remain as mysterious as their makers.
What is it about whales that we find so fascinating? They are the largest animals that have ever lived on the planet, and humans have wondered about them for all of recorded history. Pyenson, an award-winning paleontologist and curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, takes a unique look at these enigmatic marine mammals ... Pyenson paints a history of how whales became the magnificent creatures they are today. Illustrated with beautiful line drawings, and heavily annotated, this is a hard-to-put-down quest to understand whales and their place on Earth.
Pyenson...research has taken him around the globe, from the Atacama Desert in Chile to examine newly discovered whale skeletons to a whaling station in a fjord in Iceland, where whalers carve up freshly caught whales. He has looked for answers to his questions about their evolution, biology, and behavior in the Arctic and Antarctic, Panama, and North Carolina’s Outer Banks ... Although the book is packed with information, the author is quick to remind readers that, even among scientists, much about whales remains unknown ... One particularly intriguing question arises: What can humans learn about surviving in a changing world from these creatures who for millennia have survived on a planet where oceans rose and fell and land masses shifted? What keeps readers going in this occasionally challenging work are Pyenson’s clear love of his subject, his thrill at making a scientific discovery, and his depiction of the world of scientists at work.
Writing in a contagiously enthusiastic style, Pyenson brings the reader along on an exploration of the evolution of whales, from their prehistoric origins as land-roaming organisms to the at-risk aquatic species of today. Whether describing the technological advances that allow lasers to create 3-D replicas of whale skeletons, or old-fashioned fossil hunting with his son, Pyenson communicates a love of natural history and scientific discovery.