Category: natural history

Philip Hoare on Leviathan

philip hoare leviathanI see that Philip Hoare is publishing the third volume of his trilogy about the sea next week. RISINGTIDEFALLINGSTAR comes nine years after his award-winning book on the culture and history of whales, Leviathan, so I though I would re-present the interview I did with Philip about that book back then in a coffee shop in Bath (to listen click on the player above or download here)… As the publisher’s blurb puts it:

The story of a man’s obsession with whales, which takes him on a personal, historical and biographical journey – from his childhood to his fascination with Moby-Dick and his excursions whale-watching.

All his life, Philip Hoare has been obsessed by whales, from the gigantic skeletons in London’s Natural History Museum to adult encounters with the wild animals themselves. Whales have a mythical quality – they seem to elide with dark fantasies of sea-serpents and antediluvian monsters that swim in our collective unconscious.

In ‘Leviathan’, Philip Hoare seeks to locate and identify this obsession. What impelled Melville to write ‘Moby-Dick’? After his book in 1851, no one saw whales in quite the same way again.

This book is an investigation into what we know little about – dark, shadowy creatures who swim below the depths, only to surface in a spray of spume. More than the story of the whale, it is also the story of our own obsessions.

Of love and betrayal

It’s probably the right time of year to re-post a link to this interview with Robin Dunbar of Oxford University from a few years back (I’m deducing this from the fact that I’ve already had Valentine’s wishes from charities and memory card suppliers today and been invited to ‘fall in love with’ an ‘air-conditioning solution’, so something is clearly in the air).

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GM: It has to be said that in the mammalian world, promiscuity certainly has the upper hand over monogamy..

RD: Yes, this is mainly a consequence of the fact that mammals opted for internal gestation followed by lactation. That makes it very difficult for the males to do very much because there isn’t much in the form of parental engagement that they can engage in.

It may not increase your romantic instincts on Valentine’s Day, but what Robin has to say about pairbonding is fascinating. You’ll also find out why a good sense of humour is so often mentioned in dating profiles and what the origins of kissing are…

Of stones, bones, and wolf-dogs

pat shipman

pat shipmanIn Pat Shipman’s recent book, The Invaders (Harvard University Press, 2015), she argues that our last close relative, the Neanderthals, were driven to extinction not solely by climate change – though that played its part – but by the incursion of an invasive species: homo sapiens. We modern humans – the invaders of Pat’s title – completely changed the ecosystem when we arrived in Eurasia between 45 and 50 thousand years ago and made life much tougher for our Neanderthal cousins. One of our critical advantages, Shipman believes, may have been that we domesticated the wolf as a hunting companion much earlier than previously thought, as early as 32,000 years ago.Pat Shipman Invaders quote

From imaginary beasts to barely imagined beings…

barely imagined beingsCaspar Henderson‘s 21st-century bestiary, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, is one of the most imaginatively conceived and beautifully produced books I have come across in the past couple of years. In the introduction, Caspar describes how the book was inspired when he was on a riverside picnic – Alice-style – in Oxford a few years ago. He had been reading Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings, and having leafed through this book, fell asleep.

Then, he writes: ‘I woke with the thought that many real animals are stranger than imaginary ones, and it is our knowledge and understanding of them that are too cramped and fragmentary to accommodate them: we have barely imagined them.’ And so was conceived this A-Z of weird and wonderful creatures – all of them real – and their unfamiliar ways of being in the world.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

 

46. Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity

“Elephants are not treated much differently now than they were in the mid-eighteenth century: they are objects of awe and conservation, yet legally hunted, made captive, abused, and forced to labor for human gain. What then has research and learning served?”

Elephants

In Elephants on the Edge, Gay Bradshaw makes an eloquent but always scientifically reasoned plea on behalf of the elephant, “for if we fail to act on what we know, we will lose them, and more”. It’s not just a call for better conservation measures and an end to the culling of an animal listed as “endangered” on the International Union of the Conservation of Nature Red List in 2008. It’s an argument for expanding our notion of moral community to include animals, not least the sociable, communicative, intelligent elephant. Bradshaw Elephants on the Edge“This book”, one reviewer wrote, “opens the door into the soul of the elephant” and it is a remarkable world which we glimpse through that door. The book has also been highly praised by writers as diverse as Peter Singer, Desmond Tutu, J.M. Coetzee and Tim Flannery. Listen to the podcast by clicking on the link above and visit the website of the Kerulos Center in Oregon, which Gay directs, to learn about some of the inspiring projects they are running.

IUCN status report on elephant IUCN Assessment, 2008