Why am I about to review a book entitled “Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide” when it’s an unlikely place to go? Well, I think the Antarctic would be a fascinating place to visit; I’d love to go. You might love to go. The book serves as a natural history guide as well as an identification guide, so its value does not mandate the trip. The animals included are beautiful. And the Snow Petrel is there, it being the most beautiful of all seabirds.
Plus, the book is well done, and field guides well done deserve mention, since many are not well done at all.
This guide, by James Lowen, published by Princeton University Press, resembles a bit the new guide to the eastern birds of North America by Richard Crossley. Here, as in Crossley’s book, photos of the birds are overlaid on habitat photos. Whales, dolphins, and seals are included, and all of the penguins are here. The book covers the Shetland Islands, Elephant Island, and the northwest, northeast, and southwest peninsulas of the continent.
You could plan a trip using this book. Lowen anticipates that, describing how cruises to the Antarctic work, the vessels available, and how to choose one. He introduces you briefly to the mammals and families of birds before getting to the photos and information on individuals. He describes the areas usually visited by tours, and discusses seasonal differences. He suggests the clothing and equipment that would serve you best on such a trip. The information is clear and concise.
You could see a Blue Whale on such a trip, this beast the largest animal in the world, ever. On whales, Lowen offers the most valuable identification page I’ve seen for whales and dolphins. Each is shown in side view, a line marking the parts below water and the above-water portion you would most likely use for ID purposes. In so many cases the porpoises and dolphins I’ve seen are almost impossible to identify because the parts seen offer no clues to the uninformed. This book would make those IDs much easier. And as Lowen points out, though almost all of the trips you might take include guides, much of what you see will be found on your own.
Tips on photography are given. Conservation of Antarctic animals is discussed. Suggestions for further reading are included.
He calls a visit to Antarctica the trip of a lifetime. It’s certainly an expensive trip. From a wildlife standpoint, though, how could you beat it? Think of Blue Whales. Think of penguins. Think of Snow Petrels.