Humpback highway by Vanessa Ouritta

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Vanessa Pirotta describes herself as a science communicator and this communication is very personal. A lifetime interest in whales has led her to take on many jobs associated with marine mammals and dolphins, leading to her academic studies in whale research. Central to this is the Humpback Highway along Australia’s east coast where whales make their annual migration from Antarctica to the warm waters off the Queensland coast. Hunted almost to extinction the humpback is a story of conservation success but our knowledge of them is still relatively sparse. Looking for non-invasive ways to sample whale material in the wild, Pirotta and her team pioneered the use of drones to fly over spouting whales, capturing whale snot on a petrie dish to investigate what bacteria and viruses inhabit whale lungs.

The book is slow to start with lots of short sentences and unconnected narrative. We are introduced to the breakout boxes so we can “learn something” but the boxes often repeat what is in the text, just disrupting the flow but randomly contain new information which could be interesting. I would rather have had some whale identification line drawings and diagrams or even a glossary of whale jargon like “mugging,” ”breeching” and “logging”. As she gets into the swing of the personal account we are drawn into Pirotta’s world of whale research and the six pages of colour photos in the middle are very personal. Her team approach, academic rigour and research achievements are awesome and her enthusiasm is contagious; a must read for anyone interested in whale research, a comprehensive list of references is included.

Themes: Whale research, Science communication, Popular science.

Sue Speck