- The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner
“She’s self-centered, her kid needs foster care, and her own family won’t have anything to do with her.” No, she’s not the mother in a YA novel, but one of the dolphins being studied in this captivating new outing in the venerable Scientists in the Field series. Author Turner joins Janet Mann and her colleagues on the west coast of Australia, where they’ve been studying this regional population of dolphins since the 1980s. Four decades of experience means the researchers know the dolphins’ personalities and their histories, so there’s an irresistible touch of dolphin soap opera to the book. There’s no shortage of fascinating science in the breezy and engaging narrative, though, as the team explores these dolphins’ innovative use of tools (raking the sea floor with sponges to chase hidden fish out) and how this knowledge seems to be transmitted (from mother to child, but female dolphins pick up the practice more often than male). The social dynamics of dolphin life and the evolutionary advantages and disadvantages of intelligence (notable in comparing the dolphins to their local predator the tiger shark) are also examined. While being deliberately anti-mythical about dolphins (“Dolphins aren’t noble elves in wetsuits”), the book conveys the wonder of learning more about the intricacy of another species, and readers will be won over by both the dolphins and the science. Photographs are sometimes hampered by the glassy waters that overlay their subjects, but they’re lively and plentiful, with informative captions. Don’t miss the end matter, which includes a tidbit about a pregnancy-detecting dolphin, an update on the doings of both human and animal dramatis personae, and encouragement to read not only the books and websites mentioned but also to explore peer-reviewed science articles; an index is also included.