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Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures

Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures

Nick Pyenson
Viking
2018
336 pp.
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Whales are massive, their habitat is enormous, their life spans can be much longer than our own, and their intellect is both compelling and mysterious. We are captivated by whales, yet they remain difficult to know.

Nick Pyenson enters into this long affair from a paleontological perspective, being most interested in how these remarkable creatures evolved from four-legged terrestrial ancestors to marine leviathans and in the many forms they took in between. As he describes his pursuit of this knowledge, we see how challenging it really is to study these animals, both those that existed in the past and those with whom we share the world now.

Throughout the book, Pyenson brings his readers where he goes, whether it be on an adventure in the Atacama desert to solve a mystery involving dozens of intact fossil whale skeletons, or to an internal destination—his heart—as he contemplates the fact that in a single right whale’s lifetime, the world has gone from being rich with whales to being nearly without them. In the end, the reader takes away an improved knowledge of whales, especially their history, but perhaps even more importantly, a deeper understanding of the intertwining of our fates.

About the author

The reviewer is a Deputy editor at Science.