The Great Sperm Whale: A Natural History of the Ocean's Most Magnificent and Mysterious Creature


Over the past several decades, Richard Ellis has produced a remarkable body of work that has been called "magnificent" (Washington Post Book World), "masterful" (Scientific American), "magical" (Men's Journal), and a "dazzling tour de force" (Christian Science Monitor). Ellis's new book—a fascinating tour through the world of the sperm whale—will surely inspire more such praise for the author heralded by Publisher Weekly as "America's foremost writer on marine research."


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Over the past several decades, Richard Ellis has produced a remarkable body of work that has been called "magnificent" (Washington Post Book World), "masterful" (Scientific American), "magical" (Men's Journal), and a "dazzling tour de force" (Christian Science Monitor). Ellis's new book—a fascinating tour through the world of the sperm whale—will surely inspire more such praise for the author heralded by Publisher Weekly as "America's foremost writer on marine research."

Written with Ellis's deep knowledge and trademark passion, verve, and wit—and illustrated with a wide array of images including his own signature artwork—his study covers the full spectrum of the sperm whale's existence from its prehistoric past to its current endangered existence. Ellis, as no one else can, illuminates the iconic impact of Physeter macrocephalus ("big-headed blower") on our history, environment, and culture, with a substantial nod to Herman Melville and Moby-Dick, the great novel that put the sperm whale (and whaling) on the literary map.

Ranging far and wide, Ellis covers the sperm whale's evolution, ecology, biology, anatomy, behavior, social organization, intelligence, communications, migrations, diet, and breeding. He also devotes considerable space to the whale's hunting prowess, including its clashes with the giant squid, and to the history of the whaling industry that decimated its numbers during the last two centuries. He even includes a story about a beached juvenile he helped rescue, an event that provided scientists with one of their first opportunities to observe a sperm whale in the water and up close.

Offering a rich tapestry for anyone with an interest in the marvels of ocean life, Ellis's book provides an indispensable guide to the life and times of one of the planet's most intelligent, elusive, and endangered species.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
Richard Ellis is a graceful writer who's written some of the best natural history books of the past decade.
Washington Post Book World
Ellis is fun to read, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic.
Library Journal
Anyone familiar with Ellis's work knows his fascination with Physeter macrocephalus, the sperm whale; these creatures are included in his previous The Book of Whales and Men and Whales but here take center stage. Rather than rehashing that info, Ellis intends to "pull together all those disparate discussions and add substantial new material." In homage to Herman Melville, he and his masterpiece, Moby-Dick, are referenced throughout as Ellis approaches these cetaceans from a number of facets—their history (as well as we know it) and legend, biology, social lives, human interaction (they're friendly), adversarial relationship with and taste for squid (best chapter title: "I'll Have the Calamari"), the whaling industry, and efforts to protect them. Buttressing the text, which incorporates science lingo but is still accessible to lay readers, are 122 photos and illustrations, including many of Ellis's original artworks. VERDICT At once a richly detailed, informative, scientific exploration as well as a love sonnet to the ocean's greatest leviathan, this will appeal to fans of nautical history, nature, Melville, and armchair cetologists. A superb addition to Ellis's canon.—Mike Rogers, Library Journal
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700617722
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 3/3/2011
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 627,744
  • Product dimensions: 7.60 (w) x 10.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Ellis is world renowned for his writings and artwork on whales, sharks, and sea mammals and currently serves as a research associate with the American Museum of Natural History and as special advisor to the American Cetacean Society. His more than twenty books include The Book of Whales, Search for the Giant Squid, Monsters of the Sea, Great White Shark, Tuna: A Love Story, The Empty Ocean, On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear, and Sea Dragons: Predators of the Prehistoric Ocean. His paintings and illustrations have appeared in publications such as National Geographic, National Wildlife, and Audubon and have been featured in galleries and museums around the world.

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Table of Contents


1. Physty

2. Mr. Melville's Whale

3. Whence the Sperm Whale?

4. The (Un)Natural History of the Sperm Whale

5. The Social Lives of Sperm Whales

6. Battle of the Giants

7. "I'll Have the Calamari...."

8. Making Contact

9. How to Catch a Whale

10. The War on Whales

11. "Can Leviathan Long Endure so Wide a Chase?"

Appendix. The Adventures of a Whale Painter



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