It’s a lot of information packed in a short space, well laid out, easy to understand and a pleasure to return to many times.
“Where the Animals Go — Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics”
by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti
W.W. Norton, 174 pp., $39.95
As you make your way through this fascinating book, you might find yourself saying, “Wow. Who knew?” Who knew, for example, that jellyfish don’t drift aimlessly about waiting to bump into something to eat? Time-depth recorders tethered to their waists (jellyfish have waists?) show they swim up and down at speeds up to a meter per minute, actively hunting.
Until scientists began tracking mountain lions with radio collars, who knew those in Southern California were “effectively marooned” by freeways? And although albatrosses are famous for long-distance travel, who knew until they were tracked with “light loggers” (light-sensing geolocators) that, during their circumpolar flights, up to 100,000 are killed annually when they tangle with longline fishing baits?
James Cheshire, an associate professor at University College London, and Oliver Uberti, a former senior design editor for National Geographic, now join up after their debut book, “London: The Information Capital,” won the 2016 London Book Fair Innovation in Travel Publishing Award. This time, Uberti was inspired by the migration and poaching story of an elephant named Annie and her calf in Chad, an assignment to paint a map of their journey and the increasing number of articles he encountered about new tracking methods that could help people better understand animals’ “geographic needs.”
The co-author of “Where the Animals Go — Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics” will be joined by Melinda Holland of Wildlife Computers for an appearance at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10, at Greenwood Senior Center, 525 N.W. 85th St., Seattle; $5 (townhallseattle.org).
“The convergence of ecology and technology invites more people from more disciplines into the conservation conversation,” Uberti notes, “because scientists are gathering more data than they could ever process alone.”
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Instead of shooting specimens or following pawprints on foot, we can put GPS backpacks on geese, implant radio transmitters in otters and coat tiny plankton with fluorescing nanoparticles like those surgeons use to target cancer cells; we can observe animals’ movements from ever more sophisticated drones, satellite images, global wind data, camera traps and triaxial magnetometers.
Some devices now take readings many times per second. And, like Cheshire who works in Europe yet easily teams with Uberti in North America, studies all over the globe are linking up online and publishing new information.
In the past, for instance, whales were studied by harpooning them with “giant, barbed drawing pins,” meaning specimens had to be killed or collected once they died, providing few data points. But when Cheshire joined an orca research team near Iceland, he’d learned about it on Facebook. The marine research institute shares “their fieldwork and photos with thousands,” he writes, detailing how hydrophones and diving seabirds helped them locate a pod at sea. In fact, tourists’ Facebook photos showed those scientists some of the same whales had gone to Orkney and Shetland in Scotland.
For each animal, Cheshire and Uberti include a tracking map — the drone pattern flown above Sumatran jungles to study orangutans’ nest sites, for example — a map of the study area, sometimes a globe showing this area on the world map, a brief description of studies and results as well as short sidebars. It’s a lot of information packed in a short space, well laid out, easy to understand and a pleasure to return to many times. By learning where animals go, the authors note, “we can use technology to support rather than threaten the natural world.”