Continuing my series of pastoral top five lists of books about nature and animals, I’ve decided to put together a list of books about marine mammals.
I’ve always been a massive fan of dolphins, whales and orcas. These majestic creatures live in the sea, which is my favourite place.
Swimming in the sea gives me a sense of freedom I’ve never experienced anywhere else. I’ve been privileged enough to swim in some of the most gorgeous natural bodies of water in the world, from the Pacific Ocean to the Daintree river.
In the sea is where I’ve always felt the most at home. I can’t imagine how amazing the lives of marine mammals that live their permanently must be.
Ever since I saw dolphins leaping alongside our boat in Australia, I’ve known first-hand that these incredible animals are deeply intelligent and communicative.
Over the years, I’ve enjoyed reading books about marine mammals and finding out some of the secrets behind their lives.
If you’re keen to find out more about marine mammals, whether it’s in the wild or the horror that is their lives in captivity, then this is the list for you. It’s exclusively non-fiction books, but many of them are so compelling that you’ll feel like you’re reading a story.
5. Orca: The Whale Called Killer: Erich Holt’s incredible book was first published in 1981, significantly before Blackfish made Orcas the centre of public and media attention. This book is a classic that is beloved by scientists, animal behaviourists and nature lovers alike. It gives an in-depth insight into the history of our understanding of Killer Whales, and how we’ve grown to understand them through arduous study. The book also points out that, despite all we do know about Killer Whales, we still know woefully little about them. Researchers have split their types into two: residents and transients. There’s even a school of thought that says that they could be completely different species. However, we still have much to learn, and Holt puts forward some compelling arguments regarding these phenomenal and beautiful animals. The author also did an amazing job of showing that, far from being bloodthirsty killers, Orcas are actually complex animals with their own unique societies. So, if you want to go back to where our knowledge of Orcas really began, then you should read Orca: The Whale Called Killer.
4. The Pinnipeds: Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses: When most of us think about marine mammals, we think of Dolphins and Whales. But, there are plenty of other marine mammals, including sea otters and manatees. There’s also seals, sea lions and walruses, which are the subject of this incredible book. Author Marianne Riedman offers a unique insight into the lives and behaviours of these incredible and quirky creatures. The book is over 28 years old and was published in 1992, but it offers a great primer for anyone who’s interested in the history of our understanding of seal, sea lions and walruses. Riedman provides a great introduction to these beautiful creatures and helps readers to understand their lives and behaviour. It’s a very scientific book that is still accessible if you are interested in the classification of these animals, as well as information about their habits and communication styles.
3. Spying on Whales: The Past, Present and Future of the World’s Largest Animals: Whales often live very deep under the sea, and only rise to the surface briefly for air. As such, it’s understandable that we don’t know masses about many types of Whales and their everyday lives. Geologist and Academic Nick Pyenson explores the very latest in Whale research and what studies can show us about how these immense underwater creatures live. From research into fossils and Whale skeletons to field research on live Whales, Pyenson gives us an insight into how science is slowly unravelling the truth about these giants of the deep. His work spans many different countries and offers a valuable insight into what’s going on in the world of marine mammal research. The book originally came out in 2019, so it’s a few years old now, but it’s still pretty relevant and is a refreshing take on marine science. The author breaks down the science into language that’s easy for the layman to understand without being patronising or condescending, which is a real skill. As someone who’s read a lot of books about nature and animals, I can say that many behaviourists and scientists struggle to connect and communicate with their audiences, but Pyenson does it really well in this fascinating study of Whales.
2. Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins: Dolphins are one of the most world-renowned marine mammals, particularly bottle-nosed dolphins with their distinctive grins. Much of what we know of Dolphins comes from captive encounters, or wild watching of inquisitive pods of Dolphins who lark about near boats. In bestselling author Susan Casey’s epic book, we get a unique and intriguing glimpse into the lives of these sleek underwater animals. Casey explores how their lives and histories have become entwined with ours, and how their intellect and innovative communication abilities has helped Dolphins to flourish in almost every body of water in the world. There are even rare River Dolphins, and all of these different types have survived for thousands of years thanks to their collaborative natures and incredible cognitive abilities, which are much stronger than we give them credit for being. Dolphins might look cute with their seemingly permanent grins, but they can actually be very vicious if provoked and the species is carnivorous. If you always thought that Dolphins were just cute marine animals that smile and look pretty, then you really need to educate yourself by checking out this great book.
1. Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity: If you’re a fan of the Netflix documentary Blackfish, then this is the ideal read for you. Award-winning Journalist David Kirby tells the story of Marine Biologist Naomi Rose, and how she learned about Killer Whales in the wild, and the shocking difference between their natural lives and the time they spend in captivity in so-called humane establishments like SeaWorld. His book shows Rose’s fight against SeaWorld and how she and other campaigners worked to get these majestic animals released, even before the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau, which is the main subject of the Netflix documentary. The book reads like a thriller and gives an unbelievable insight into the horrific world of animal exploitation.