PEART, Raewyn Dolphins of Aotearoa Craig Potton Pub, 2013 307pp NZ$59.99 ISBN 9781877517983 SCIS 1636042
As I sit on my deck, glass of wine in hand, facing the inner Akaroa harbour, watching from time-to-time tourists delighting in swimming with (presumably Hector) dolphins, I will look at this activity with a far deeper awareness of not only the incredible joy and insight into this species that living-in-the moment can bring to the participants, but also deeply concerned at the chequered history of human institutional relationships with dolphins and the reality that ignorance is not bliss. I recall as a child watching with wonder at the Disney-like display of dolphin antics at Marineland in Napier and now read of the hugely damaging ‘business’ that tourism actually can be.
This is a story (and the book is written using a strong narrative style) of inspiration as we follow the trajectory of early discoverers of dolphins and who have shared remarkable tales encounters at sea (including Māori insights into dolphin nature through their stories of spiritual and ancestral connections); and of a range of particular dolphins that have become iconic figures in our history (like Opo of the Hokianga Harbour). It is also the story of the scientists who want to know more about this most intelligent and empathetic of mammals and our legal/ethical obligations to them as beings who seem to exercise agency within the eco-system; and of some fisher-folk who genuinely care about the danger of extinction. But this is also a deeply disturbing story of the dark side of personalities, politics, bureaucracy and economics where the immediate needs of people and power take precedence over the needs of an endangered species. Given the uniqueness that this mammal presents, it is no small issue. Make no mistake: this is written by a passionate advocate for the animal and, given the depth and range of material that is detailed, is to be highly commended for a very-well written, weighty book. If there was ever an argument for the necessity of the book as much as the web to be a source of information, this book gives plenty of evidence for the power of the book to give substance. Highly recommended. JMcK