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The Great Sperm Whale

A Natural History of the Ocean’s Most Magnificent and Mysterious Creature

Richard Ellis

April 2011
432 pages, 122 photographs, 25 in color, 7 x 10
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1772-2, $34.95 (t)

book cover imageOver the past several decades, Richard Ellis has produced a remarkable body of work that has been called “magnificent” (Washington Post Book World), “masterful” (Scientific American), “magical” (Men’s Journal), and a “dazzling tour de force” (Christian Science Monitor). Ellis’s new book—a fascinating tour through the world of the sperm whale—will surely inspire more such praise for the author heralded by Publishers Weekly as “America’s foremost writer on marine research.”

Written with Ellis’s deep knowledge and trademark passion, verve, and wit—and illustrated with a wide array of images including his own signature artwork—his study covers the full spectrum of the sperm whale’s existence from its prehistoric past to its current endangered existence. Ellis, as no one else can, illuminates the iconic impact of Physeter macrocephalus (“big-headed blower”) on our history, environment, and culture, with a substantial nod to Herman Melville and Moby-Dick, the great novel that put the sperm whale (and whaling) on the literary map.

Ranging far and wide, Ellis covers the sperm whale’s evolution, ecology, biology, anatomy, behavior, social organization, intelligence, communications, migrations, diet, and breeding. He also devotes considerable space to the whale’s hunting prowess, including its clashes with the giant squid, and to the history of the whaling industry that decimated its numbers during the last two centuries. He even includes a story about a beached juvenile he helped rescue, an event that provided scientists with one of their first opportunities to observe a sperm whale in the water and up close.

Offering a rich tapestry for anyone with an interest in the marvels of ocean life, Ellis’s book provides an indispensable guide to the life and times of one of the planet’s most intelligent, elusive, and endangered species.

“Richard Ellis is a prolific and graceful writer who’s written some of the best natural history books of the past decade.”—New York Times Book Review

“The most mysterious of all mammals is richly chronicled in this mesmerizing voyage that includes battles with whaleboats and giant squid. Ellis’s rigorous scientific insights are matched only by his eloquent plea for this magnificent creature’s future.”—Dick Russell, author of Eye of the Whale 

“Ellis’s superbly researched and illustrated new book reveals strange new aspects of this most beguiling animal.”—Hal Whitehead, author of Sperm Whales: Social Evolution in the Ocean

“Ellis is fun to read, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic.”—Washington Post Book World

RICHARD ELLIS is world renowned for his writings and artwork on whales, sharks, and sea mammals and currently serves as a research associate with the American Museum of Natural History and as special advisor to the American Cetacean Society. His more than twenty books include The Book of Whales, Search for the Giant Squid, Monsters of the Sea, Great White Shark, Tuna: A Love Story, The Empty Ocean, On Thin Ice: The Changing World of the Polar Bear, and Sea Dragons: Predators of the Prehistoric Ocean. His paintings and illustrations have appeared in publications such as National Geographic, National Wildlife, and Audubon and have been featured in galleries and museums around the world. 

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