Lowen's ‘Antarctic wildlife, a visitor's guide’ adds perspective

May 23, 2011

It's difficult to appreciate far off consequences of things like melting polar ice-caps, rising ocean levels, and other effects that happen far away or too slowly for the eye to see. That's one reason why I think books like James Lowen's “Antarctic Wildlife, A Visitor's Guide” are so important. They help provide context for and appreciation of the Antarctic as more than an abstract concept.

First and foremost, Lowen's book is designed as a travel guide and a comprehensive field guide for anyone taking a cruise to the Antarctic. It details typical cruise routes, the advantages of big chips versus smaller boats that can get closer to land and may even allow visitors to disembark and set foot on the Earth's loneliest continent. Although covered thoroughly, information designed to prepare those planning a visit to Antarctica comprises only a small fraction of the book's 240 pages.
The rest of the book is a true field guide. Rather than the typical field guide, which might focus on just one class of organism such as birds or sea mammals, “Antarctic Wildlife, A Visitor's Guide” covers them all. You'll find information and identification photographs of lichens, penguins, whales and just about everything in between that lives in Antarctica or the frigid Antarctic Ocean.
Although some plants, fungi and lichens do eke out a living on the Antarctic Islands and the continent itself, the vast majority of life there is sustained by the seas. Krill forms one of the foundations of the Antarctic food chain. During the brief Antarctic summers, birds and seals crowd the shores to breed. Most of them, with a few exceptions, return to the sea to feed.
Lowen's book provides the usual behavioral notes which would be expected of any field guide, but also includes “talking points” or additional little tidbits about most of the species in the book. For those planning a trip to see the unique landscapes and wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula, neighboring islands and the Antarctic Ocean, “Antarctic Wildlife, a Visitor's Guide” provides a compact yet complete source of information to help maximize the experience.
For the rest of us, “Antarctic Wildlife” is a window offering a view of the southern end of the world. It breathes life into the abstract concept of Antarctica's vast ice fields and rocky coasts. One of the Earth's most critical and fragile habitats is in a state of flux, impacted by ocean acidification, climate change, ozone depletion and a host of man-made pressures. By revealing its treasures, Lowen reminds us why even the most remote places on Earth are worth defending.
(Source: The Contributor Network)