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Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World

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Among all the large whales on Earth, the most unusual and least studied is the narwhal, the northernmost whale on the planet and the one most threatened by global warming. Narwhals thrive in the fjords and inlets of northern Canada and Greenland. These elusive whales, whose long tusks were the stuff of medieval European myths and Inuit legends, are uniquely adapted to the Arctic ecosystem and are able to dive below thick sheets of ice to depths of up to 1,500 meters in search of...

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Overview

Among all the large whales on Earth, the most unusual and least studied is the narwhal, the northernmost whale on the planet and the one most threatened by global warming. Narwhals thrive in the fjords and inlets of northern Canada and Greenland. These elusive whales, whose long tusks were the stuff of medieval European myths and Inuit legends, are uniquely adapted to the Arctic ecosystem and are able to dive below thick sheets of ice to depths of up to 1,500 meters in search of their prey-halibut, cod, and squid.

Join Todd McLeish as he travels high above the Arctic circle to meet:

Teams of scientific researchers studying the narwhal's life cycle and the mysteries of its tusk

Inuit storytellers and hunters

Animals that share the narwhals' habitat: walruses, polar bears, bowhead and beluga whales, ivory gulls, and two kinds of seals

McLeish consults logbooks kept by whalers and explorers and interviews folklorists and historians to tease out the relationship between the real narwhal and the mythical unicorn. In Colorado, he visits climatologists studying changes in the seasonal cycles of the Arctic ice. From a history of the trade in narwhal tusks to descriptions of narwhals' vocalizations as heard through hydrophones, Narwhals reveals the beauty and thrill of the narwhal and its habitat, and the threat it faces from a rapidly changing world.

University of Washington Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the Middle Ages, every terrestrial animal was believed to have a marine counterpart, thus the narwhal—a mysterious, one-tusked Arctic whale—was used to bolster the case for unicorns, and their tusks were sold for vast sums as unicorn horns. Though real, narwhals are poorly understood; research on the species has been slow and difficult, in part because the narwhal spends most of its life deep beneath dense ice. McLeish (Basking with Humpbacks), an amateur narwhal enthusiast, through his ardor and meticulous journalism profiles a fascinating creature physiologically adapted to extreme cold, deep diving, and darkness (narwhals rely on hearing much more than sight). The zoological portions of the book are balanced by human interest: McLeish adeptly describes the strange, small communities of people who live above the Arctic Circle. He is treated to narwhal blubber, an Inuit delicacy, and narwhal steak, while a large group of narwhal hunters and their wives watch closely for his reaction. He also delves into a hot controversy surrounding the potential purposes of the narwhal's "horn". McLeish is a careful narrator, prone to describing Arctic flora, but the book is a rewarding treatise on a fascinating animal. 12 illus. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Anthropology, conservation, biology and local cultural and economic considerations blend effortlessly in this account. Ultimately the reader comes away with a profound awareness of the complications involved in maintaining in perpetuity a long lived species whose behavioral and ecological circumstances ironically leave it vulnerable to anthropogenic perturbations." -Science Book and Film Review, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Library Journal
10/01/2013
Having since childhood been in love with Narwhals (the males of which have one horn, giving them a magical aura), author McLeish (public information officer, Univ. of Rhode Island; Basking with Humpbacks) spent years pondering their oddities, grace, lore, and biological reality. Finally taking an opportunity to join a team of researchers in Canada and visiting an Inuit hunting camp in Greenland, he had the chance to transform his boyhood fantasies into the stuff of real life. Unlike some other biological/journalistic stories, McLeish's book is not cluttered with distracting detail or a confusing, jumpy narrative but instead is a tightly written piece that richly and ably tells the past and present—and hints of the future—of these marvelous, endangered, long-toothed animals. VERDICT Although lacking in the more formal documentation of a scientific work (there is a bibliography but no further reading recommendations or notes), this will nonetheless be a good title for academic as well as public libraries. The clarity and strong narrative will well serve both students and enthusiasts of biological studies, ecological concepts, marine life, conservation, and similar topics.—Susan E. Brazer, Salisbury Univ. Lib., MA
Orion - Elizabeth Bradfield

As one of the first general-interest books for adults dedicated to the narwhal, it's an important first start. Full of science, story, and some amazing images, Narwhals introduces us to the 'sea unicorn's' world.

American Association for the Advancement of Science - Science Book and Film Review

Anthropology, conservation, biology and local cultural and economic considerations blend effortlessly in this account. Ultimately the reader comes away with a profound awareness of the complications involved in maintaining in perpetuity a long lived species whose behavioral and ecological circumstances ironically leave it vulnerable to anthropogenic perturbations.

BBC Wildlife - Kieran Mulvaney

His expertise shines in this pithy, entertaining book, which concludes with a sober assessment of the future for this species, one of only three truly Arctic cetaceans, in a warming world.

IndependentRI - Doug Norris

Part of the book's strength lies in how McLeish captures the vivid sensory world of the Arctic.

The Green Blog - Beth Daley

Todd McLeish goes deep into the narwhal— from its mythology to its biology.

Booklist - Colleen Mondor

McLeish provides a broad view of the narwhal's history and legend, remaining awestruck and deeply concerned for a species that remains a miraculous creation.

Quarterly Review of Biology - M. P. Heide-Jørgensen

[The book] is a personal account of the latest scientific findings on narwhals and on ways the Arctic environment is changing.... [it] feels like a privilege to see one’s favorite study animal portrayed as it has been here in a well-written popular book for a broad audience.

Choice

Based on interviews with researchers and his own research, McLeish weaves a compelling story about narwhals and the impact of the changing climate on their survival.... This book is a great read for general audiences and students as well as scientists interested in narwhals.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780295992648
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2013
  • Series: A Samuel and Althea Stroum Book
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Todd McLeish is the author of Golden Wings and Hairy Toes: Encounters with New England's Most Imperiled Wildlife and Basking with Humpbacks: Tracking Threatened Marine Life in New England Waters. He lives in Pascoag, Rhode Island.

University of Washington Press

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Table of Contents

Prologue

1. First Encounter 2. Whale Spotting3. A Symphony of Moos 4. The Inside-Out Tooth 5. Mythology 6. Melting Ice 7. Greenland 8. Subsistence 9. Muktuk 10. To the East 11. Playing Catch 12. Gaining Ground 13. Looking Ahead

AcknowledgmentsBibliography Index

University of Washington Press

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