Vol. 51/4 (No. 333) June 2004, p. 232-233
DER WEISSWAL, 2nd ed., by Wolfgang Gewalt: Westarp, Hohenwarsleben, 2001 (Neue Brehm-Bücherei, Band 497). 232 pp.,147 illus., paperback. ISBN 3-89432-836-3. € 24.95 (c. £ 16 or US$ 30).
PINGUINE – SPEZIALISTEN FÜRS KALTE by Boris Culik. BLV, Munich, 2002. 160 pp., 171 colour photographs, hardback. ISBN 3-405- 16318-8. € 39.90 (c. £ 27 or US$ 48).
LEBEN IM MEER – WIE ES IST, WIE ES WURDE, WIE ES WERDEN KANN by Werner Grüter. Friedrich Pfeil, Munich, 2001. 288 pp., 333 colour photographs, hardback. ISBN 3- 931516-95-4. € 40. (Published simultaneously in English as LIFE IN THE SEA: AS IT IS, HOW IT CAME TO BE, HOW IT COULD BECOME, translated by Allan H. Kirkwood. ISBN 3- 931516-96-2. € 40 or US$ 50.)
Duisburg, a port of 505,000 population at the western edge of the Ruhr industrial district 230 kilometres upriver on the Rhine from the North Sea, is not a city one would immediately associate with cetaceans. Yet its zoo was the first in the interior of Europe to build a dolphinarium, opened in 1965. In 1966, Wolfgang Gewalt, a curator at Berlin Zoo (and a native Berliner), became director of Duisburg Zoo. In spring of the same year, greeting him at his new job so to speak, a white whale (Delphinapterus leucas) a couple of thousand kilometres from what would normally be considered his range, breached the surface of the middle Rhine in Duisburg harbour. The papers gave him the – admittedly not very imaginative – name of Moby Dick, but, like Ahab, the new Duisburg Zoo director was immediately on his back. Not to kill him, of course, but to capture him and milk him of every drop of publicity he could provide the zoo and its new dolphinarium. Unlike Melville's Moby Dick, this one got away; he was last seen at Hoek van Holland in the evening of 16 June 1966. But Dr Gewalt – whose name translates literally as 'violence' – had tasted blood, and in the course of a quarter-century as zoo director he would bring not only run-of the mill bottle-nosed dolphins and harbour porpoises to Duisburg, but Orinoco and Guyana river dolphins, Commerson's dolphins and white whales or belugas as well. Most of the zoo's cetaceans he caught or helped to capture himself, the first belugas in 1969 in Hudson's Bay in Canada.
Since Dr Gewalt's retirement eleven years ago, Duisburg Zoo's cetacean collection has been slowly fading, and its last white whale will not, I'm told, be replaced. But the new dolphinarium, designed under Dr Gewalt's administration although inaugurated after his departure, remains one of the zoo's most popular attractions. Along with two other books on whales and dolphins written by Dr. Gewalt in retirement, the second, revised edition of Der Weisswal shows that he has not lost the fascination for cetaceans that Moby Dick apparently first awoke in him.
Originally published in 1976, the first edition of Der Weisswal was the first monograph on the beluga in German, and although I certainly cannot claim to know all books on the subject in all languages, I can hardly imagine a better book. Both the natural and the cultural history of the species are well covered, the book is exhaustively illustrated with photographs, maps, charts and graphics, and the author obviously knows his subject well. The chapter on white whales in captivity may be of special interest to readers of IZN.
The text is a bit staid, as can be expected of an academic title, but even in stodgy Germany books with scientific pretensions need not necessarily be that way. In this case it's especially unfortunate as Dr Gewalt can be a very lively and witty writer.
The scheme of Der Weisswal was preordained as a volume of the 'Neue Brehm-Bücherei', the originally East German series of natural history books that has produced to date some 650 titles in 55 years. What would have been nice are large-format colour photographs of white whales and their environment, but that would have required another concept. Boris Culik's Pinguine – Spezialisten fürs Kalte ('Penguins – Specialists of the Cold') has the right design – and well over a hundred beautiful photographs of penguins, more of their environment, and a few interesting historical illustrations thrown in. In those few zoos that exhibit white whales, penguins are usually not far away – they're both in the 'polar' section of the park. The subtitle of Professor Culik's book plays on the popular prejudice that the 17 species of penguin are all Antarctic birds, but once one has bought his book, one gets an excellent review of what penguins really are and where and how they live. Professor Culik has been studying penguins in the wild for two decades now. This is his fifth book on the subject, but the first in a coffeetable format. Penguinologists presumably will find nothing new to them in this book, but penguin enthusiasts – not at all a rare species – will definitely want to have a copy. And he has some interesting thoughts on penguins in zoos.
Penguins are mentioned in passing and dolphins are featured in a chapter in Werner Grüter's Leben im Meer. Most readers of IZN will presumably prefer the English-language edition Life in the Sea, issued in the same year as the German original by the same (German) publisher – if it's a book for you at all. It appears to be first and foremost a vehicle for publication of Professor Grüter's own underwater photographs, interspersed with easily digestible essays on a representative selection of marine animal groups. The author (and photographer) is a neurologist and psychiatrist, an enthusiastic amateur diver, and the wealthy sponsor of an annual prize for science popularization named after himself and his wife. His book is an exercise in popularization, well translated, but not really living up to its title or subtitle. Life in the Sea: As it is, How it came to be, How it could become suggests the synthesis of a single concept that just isn't there. Rather, Professor Grüter, perhaps recognizing the short attention span of many students nowadays, has chosen to write individual essays that are complete in themselves, didactic in tone but nevertheless pleasant enough to read. Chapters have headings such as 'Lionfishes: the poisonous peacocks of the sea' and 'Microcosmic high-tech: cnidarian cannons'. The chapter on dolphins is entitled 'Fish-shaped mammals with brains like humans'. It's a book to dip into, after a dive perhaps, and one to thumb through with all its good if not spectacular photographs. One can easily get hooked on one of the essays. Der Weisswal is almost a must in every good zoo and aquarium library, but perhaps not attractive enough as a book to be a popular gift-shop item. Pinguine would be nice for the library to have, if not essential, but a sure seller in the shop (at least where German is read). Life in the Sea and Leben im Meer, on the other hand, are ideal gifts for divers, beachcombers and yachtsmen – more appropriate for aquarium and oceanarium shops than for any Library.
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