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Can learning about animals actually teach us about them? Can this research help us to protect them? How do we ascribe feelings to animals without humanizing them? As I reviewed Beyond Words, I found myself amazed and delighted about the wonders of elephants and sharks and their respective communities.
From The cover
Follow researcher Carl Safina as he treks with a herd of elephants across the Kenyan landscape, then travel with him to the Pacific Northwest to track and monitor whales in their ocean home. Along the way, find out more about the interior lives of these giants of land and sea – how they play, how they fight, and how they communicate with one another, and sometimes with us, too.
What you Get
Two animals, discussed under the cover of one book. Part one is about the lives of elephants. Part two is about killer whales.
In the lives of elephants we follow researcher Cynthia Moss as she lives out in Africa learning about the 900+ elephants that use Amboseli National Park as a central part of their lives. A pivotal part of understanding Ms. Moss’ approach to working with elephants is this “I think of them as elephants…I’m interested in them as elephants. Comparing elephants to people… I don’t find it helpful. I find it much more interesting trying to understand an animal as itself.”
Ken Balcomb helps us to delve into the world of the killer whale. Understanding their huge social networks and the distinctions between transients and residents. How pods of killer whales are distinctly different from one area to another, so much so that in time they will be seen as a sub-species of each other.
Both sections point out new things researchers are learning about the animal they are studying. They also point out the dangers they face from lack of land, disrupting sonar, ivory hunters, and lack of food.
Learning about these magnificent creatures does us no good if they disappear because we didn’t take the time to care about them. We need to use the research to help us protect them.
I learned so much, less with the elephants than with the orca. It opened my eyes to why captive whale programs were so horrible.
In some ways I wasn’t horribly surprised, any animal that lives as part of a pack/herd/community is bound to have communal behaviours. Behaviours that show happiness, sadness, grief and more. Behaviours that we only know how to quantify by adding human emotions to them.
I appreciated how the researchers showed restraint by being very careful not to equate behaviours in animals, to behaviour in people. It is so important to not humanize animals.
Yet… they come so close, it’s such a fine line. 🙂 Amazing stories about the things that these animals can do. Rescuing, helping, teaching, aware of themselves and others.
An interesting book to read, definitely gave me things to ponder. How will it do for middle schoolers? It will open their eyes to the wonder of elephants and killer whales. Giving them a deeper understanding of the societies that they form.
- Beyond Words: What elephants and Whales Think and Feel
- Carl Safina
- Roaring Brook Press
- 176 pages, trade paperback
- middle school
- Science, Biology, Research,
- Reviewed for: Raincoast Books
Other books that I’ve reviewed about animals