Spying on Whales
The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures
Written by: Nick Pyenson
Read by: Nick Pyenson
7 Hours and 26 Minutes
PRHA| Imprint: Penguin Audio
Genre: Nature – Animals – Mammals
Release Date: June 26, 2018
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
Whales are among the largest, most intelligent, deepest diving species to have ever lived on our planet. They evolved from land-roaming, dog-sized creatures into animals that move like fish, breathe like us, can grow to 300,000 pounds, live 200 years and travel entire ocean basins. Whales fill us with terror, awe, and affection–yet there is still so much we don’t know about them. Why did it take whales over 50 million years to evolve to such big sizes, and how do they eat enough to stay that big? How did their ancestors return from land to the sea–and what can their lives tell us about evolution as a whole? Importantly, in the sweepstakes of human-driven habitat and climate change, will whales survive?
Nick Pyenson’s research has given us the answers to some of our biggest questions about whales. He takes us deep inside the Smithsonian’s unparalleled fossil collections, to frigid Antarctic waters, and to the arid desert in Chile, where scientists race against time to document the largest fossil whale site ever found. Full of rich storytelling and scientific discovery, Spying on Whales spans the ancient past to an uncertain future–all to better understand the most enigmatic creatures on Earth. http://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/556686/spying-on-whales/
At the heart of this book is the young man, the boy, whose curiosity led him to become a paleobiologist. Dr. Pyenson tells the story of whales with a childlike enthusiasm that sees the best in colleagues, endures the tough physical challenges as well as the rigorous academics involved in his position, and what seems like an endless amount of passion for passing knowledge and understanding on to people of all scientific abilities, including me.
Despite its math and methods science is still a human endeavor, and it requires heart and passion to reach us. Pyenson offers facts and information but more importantly his writing and narration are relatable and his personality is friendly. He tells a story.
I saw my first whale while I was listening to the book, off the Massachusetts beach where we spend a lot of time. Although it wasn’t bigger than a bus, it was as large as many of the fishing boats in the water. It was certainly the biggest animal I had ever seen in the water. We saw whales several times this past week including a breaching.
I know more about the whale species than I did before I read the book, but, be advised that like many natural science books it can be hard to understand certain words. One term I found I had completely misunderstood as “Roark Whale” is really “Rorqual Whale.” But it also seems likely that the whale, or whales we saw were humpback or minke whales.
I also found the colorful descriptions of how whale research is done fascinating: deserts, freezing seas, rocky roads, cliffs under tides all but once a year. It is often dangerous, most assuredly uncomfortable and dirty work. As a paleobiologist it is curious how important Pyenson’s work is to understanding how this species fares today: how it was and is affected by hunting, pollution and climate change. He offers facts, theory
Pyenson, is brilliant, and he has a pleasant voice for delivering his words in audio format. His ability to personalize his work, tells the story of the whale and the story of science.
PYENSON LAB: http://nmnh.typepad.com/pyenson_lab/
PYENSON’S SMITHSONIAN PAGE: https://paleobiology.si.edu/staff/individuals/pyenson.html