Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
From the comical antics of the Rock Hopper penguin to the stately Emperor, penguins almost universally enthrall. They are probably the most loved of all birds. This affection manifests itself in the hugely successful movie, “Happy Feet”, the mountains of merchandise featuring their signature black and white, and the publishing empire boasting the little penguin logo.
Now the magnificent book, Penguins in revised edition has arrived. Fifteen years’ work in challenging conditions by the three authors, two of whom are world renowned photographers, has produced a book giving fascinating facts about these extraordinary creatures.
Penguins’ lives, like most animals’, are deeply mysterious and man is unable to completely know them, but this book is a glorious intimation of the complexity, variety, and character of the 18/19 species of penguin.
The Southern Hemisphere is home to all these but only four species live within the Antarctic Pole. Those remaining are found beyond and one, the Galapagos Penguin, inhabits a tropical area even venturing across the equator. There are desert penguins, forest penguins and both solitary and gregarious species. Some may weigh up to 30kg., others 1kg.
The Adelie is the southernmost of the species. They swim in the freezing Antarctic waters, their feathers shaped to keep them warm and dry. They dive enthusiastically and speedily swim with their beautifully adapted wings.
Like their fellow species, the Adelie is perfectly suited to not only thrive in the freezing waters but also to go ashore to breed. Their plumage is the densest of all birds and underneath there is a deep fat layer. Their thermal controls allow their blood flow to govern their responses to heat and cold. Feet and wings have a two-fold ability. On land, wings give balance and feet are like boots that can grip the ice. In the ocean, the flippers give them super swimming speed and the feet steer. Their top speed underwater has been measured 36kph, and Emperors have been known to dive to 330 ft and hold their breath for 22mins.
These warm-blooded animals are vastly more advanced than turtles and seals which are also air-breathing.
It was sadly inevitable that mankind brought damage and death to penguins. In the nineteenth century, when Europeans discovered the value of guano as a fertiliser, they stole this nesting material from coastal Peru, devastating penguin lives and their breeding possibility.
In the Falkland Islands, the Magellanic penguin eggs, laid in deep burrows, were stolen by children at government decree, then stored for the winter.
As early as 1497, the Portuguese found the African Black Footed (Jackass) penguin in the southern cape, which was the first encounter by Europeans. They slaughtered countless numbers and, even in these more enlightened days, the 1.5 million a century ago has shrunk to just 25,000 breeding pairs.
This remarkable book devotes a section to each of the species in scientific detail. Within its covers, there is comprehensive data which we can explore without having to endure the terrain and temperatures of the penguins’ chosen habitats.
The information is excellent but it is the photography that is breathtakingly superb. One memorable one for me is the little Snares penguins standing like statues in the greenery of a New Zealand Island.
The book offers interesting penguin facts in its first part; however, a legion of experts also provides the detailed scientific data for each species in the latter section. Throughout, it is the obvious passion and love for this amazing bird that makes the book such a remarkable guide that rightly, will be welcomed and treasured by many.
In every respect, it reaches the heights of excellence – deservedly earning its title of ‘the ultimate guide’.
Penguins – The Ultimate Guide
by Tui De Roy, Mark Jones and Julie Cornthwaite
Princeton University Press
ISBN 978 069123 357 4