Penguin book a ‘treasure trove’

By SciBooks 08/01/2014

Reviewed by Alison Ballance

penguinsREVIEW: Penguins: their world, their ways

by Tui de Roy, Mark Jones and Julie Cornthwaite

David Bateman Ltd, 2013
RRP: $79.99

Penguins: their world, their ways is a delightful book, both to look at and to read. At 240-pages long with hundreds of photographs, it manages to be both coffee-table beautiful and compellingly informative. Tui de Roy and Mark Jones are internationally renowned photographers, currently domiciled in Golden Bay. Together with Julie Cornthwaite they make up Roving Tortoise Photography, and this latest volume on penguins is a sister book to their earlier volume on albatrosses.

While none of the authors is an ornithologist, the book is well-researched, and is a veritable treasure trove of information about the world’s 18 species of penguins. It took the authors many years to gather the photographs, and they made a number of expeditions to the New Zealand subantarctic on their own 13-metre yacht, as well as hitching rides on fishing boats and expedition vessels to seldom-visited islands such as Gough and the South Shetlands.

The book is divided into three sections, each compiled by one of the authors. In Life Between Two Worlds, Tui de Roy writes first-hand about her experiences photographing penguins for the book. This is the adventure section of the book, and invokes the sights and sounds of penguin colonies on some extraordinarily remote islands. In the chapter Stripes and Brays: the ‘jackass’ foursome she writes about the Galapagos penguin (the only species which creeps into the northern hemisphere), the Humboldt penguin from Chile and Peru, the Magellanic penguin from Patagonia and the Falkland Islands, and the African penguin. Adelie, chinstrap and gentoo all feature in Long-tailed trilogy: the Antarctic trioIsland dandies: the crested penguins covers erect-crested (from the Bounties and Antipodes islands), Snares penguin, Fiordland penguin, Royal penguin and Macaroni penguin. Northern and Southern rockhopper are the subject of Multitudes in trouble – the rockhoppers, while Fairies of the night: an odd couple covers the little blue (including the white-flippered penguin) and the yellow-eyed penguin. The final chapter in this section is Monarchs of the Far South: Kings and Emperors.

In the second section of the book, Science and Conservation, Mark Jones has compiled a wonderful historical section entitled Penguins and people: a retrospective, and has curated contributions from 16 international scientists, including New Zealand’s David Thompson from NIWA and Massey University PhD student Kyle Morrison. The scientists write about significant aspects of their own research, while a more unusual contribution  comes from Conrad Glass, a  police officer from Tristan de Cunha  who writes a first-hand account of dealing with the consequences of a large oil spill in 2011.

Julie Cornthwaite’s third section Species Natural History begins with a photographic who’s who, fascinating penguin facts, an overview on penguin range and population status, followed by a two-page spread for each species outlining its biology and threats. The book concludes with useful notes on where to see wild penguins.

Penguins are highly relevant to New Zealand. Of the 18 living species, eight occur either in New Zealand or the Ross Sea sector of Antarctica, including four endemic species – the Yellow-eyed, Fiordland crested, Snares and Erect-crested penguins). This book differs slightly from the recently published Birds of New Zealand – a photographic guide (see SciBooks review) which recognises the Eastern rockhopper as a full species, in that Roy et al have more conservatively elected to keep calling it the Southern rockhopper, recognising the Eastern as a subspecies of the southern. New Zealand has also been a hotbed for penguin evolution, and a 61-million year old fossil from here is the oldest known penguin.

I highly recommend this book; whether you are a complete penguin novice or a penguin biologist of long-standing, you will find much to engage with. Check out the rockhopper penguins in mid-leap on page 94, the mid-air gentoo collision on page 66, or just open a page at random and you’ll be transported into the life of a truly engaging flightless seabird.

Alison Ballance is a zoologist, wildlife filmmaker, writer, and producer and presenter of Radio NZ’s Our Changing World. She has spent time watching penguins on Campbell Island, the Auckland islands and the Otago Peninsula.