Thursday, April 21, 2016
The Dolphins of Shark Bay, written by Pamela S. Turner with photographs by Scott Tuason. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2013. $26.50 ages 10 and up
I will never stop singing the praises of the remarkable books in the Scientists In The Field series. As I consider myself a non-scientist, I cannot tell you how much I have learned in reading them. As always happens, I set out skimming the pages to get a feel for the science and the writing, only to find myself totally immersed in the research being shared. I have never been disappointed and think that they should be a part of every middle school library, although they are definitely meant to inform each and every one of us. Only in knowing these amazing creatures can we begin to care enough to want to help ensure that they are always with us and available for study to scientists like Janet Mann.
"Janet Mann stands on the dashboard of the Pomboo, bare toes gripping the steering wheel. She spots a gray fin in the distance. "Unknown dolphin," the biologist calls. After twenty-five years in Shark Bay, Western Australia, Janet recognizes hundreds of wild bottlenose dolphins by the unique nicks and cuts on their dorsal fins. This animal, however, is a stranger. Janet angles the Pomboo's bow toward the dolphin. Not quite directly, though. She never wants a dolphin to feel chased or threatened. "Does it have a sponge?" Janet asks. "Can anybody see?"
Some Shark Bay dolphins sponge, and some do not. Why is that? Did they learn it from their mothers? Is that possible? It is very unusual for wild animals to use tools. Janet Mann knows that the Shark Bay bottlenose dolphin is the only known one in the world to do so. And I know this before I get to page 5. What else is there to learn? You won't believe how much Janet Mann and her team have to share with us.
Pamela Turner does an exemplary job of providing her readers with real time research as she takes us out on the Pomboo to follow those dolphins and watch them carefully as they do what dolphins do in the wild. The text is conversational as we have come to expect from this series, and accompanied by stellar, well-captioned photographs captured in the camera lens of Scott Tuason. They are as playful as their subjects and filled with visual learning that will engage hearts. Each caption provides facts about the dolphins themselves and the scientists who study them. Through text and photos, we learn that dolphin life can be very complicated.
"Cheeky surfaces next to Lick as Cookie and Urchin approach. Although Janet can't see very far below the water, Cheeky's surfacing pattern (behind and just after his mother) tells Janet that Cheeky is swimming in baby position."
In backmatter, readers will find a section that provides even more information about these truly amazing creatures: how echolocation works, the threats to their existence, how world scientists share their findings about them. There is also a list of internet and multimedia resources, and more books that will add to what has already been learned. There is a lovely section that includes the latest news concerning the team and the dolphins themselves, a testament to the connection the author has with her subject.