New Cetacean Guide by Mark Carwardine

There is a new cetacean reference book out and I love it: Mark Carwardine, Handbook of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises, Bloomsbury, 2020. So far it is just released in UK, but a US version is planned for early next year.

At 528 pages, it has a fair heft, yet the 16 x 24 cm trim size means you can take it on an international flight and not immediately be over your baggage limit. (It is heavier than a modern bird book, but not by much.)

Design is attractive, with blues, tans, side bars, and legible call-outs. Writing is clear and full of fun things like quick bios of who the beasts are named after. I found the intro section on parasites (cookiecutter sharks, remoras, barnacles) creepy yet mesmerizing. More detail is found in the individual species accounts (gray whale, right whale). Maybe I should not admit this but whale lice give me the willies somehow — part cockroach, part space bug.

Photos are plentiful and often surprising, along the lines of “how did you ever get THAT?” Painted images are uniformly great, and the book’s ID suggestions (eg dive sequences and spout shapes) are very helpful — and often missing in other guides. Comprehensive? You bet: an as-yet-unnamed species of dwarf Baird’s whale is given full treatment, and in surveying all the known types of killer whale, that entry spans 25 pages. More typical is the Baird’s Beaked Whale entry, shown in full below.

Bottom line? Every time you go on a pelagic trip, this should be in your bag, along with saltine crackers, gingersnaps, sun cream, and a big, soft bandana for cleaning lenses (or wiping the barf off your face).

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