________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 36 . . . . May 18, 2012


Frozen Planet: A World Beyond Imagination.

Alastair Fothergill & Vanessa Berlowitz.
Richmond Hill, ON: Firefly Books, 2012.
312 pp., hardcover,$39.95.
ISBN 978-1-55407-991-9.

Grades 7 and up /Ages 12 and up.

Review by Gail Hamilton.

**** /4



The end of summer sees impressive gatherings of whales along the Arctic coast. While still free of ice, the mouths of certain rivers attract large numbers of beluga whales. Following traditional migration routes, the whales head for the shallow estuaries they have used for centuries.

At Cunningham Inlet in the Canadian Arctic, more than 2000 belugas gather every July and August. Riding on their mothers’ slipstreams are newborn calves just a month old. They are still pinky-grey and will not turn white for another five years. These spectacular gatherings are not for food or sex. Rather, the whales come together to moult off the year’s skin.

Rubbing and twisting against the stony bottom of the estuary, the belugas scrape off the slightly yellowed skin of summer to reveal the new white skin. They choose these particular river mouths for two reasons. First, they are the correct depth for rubbing and have just the right type of gravel to provide the perfect scrub. Second, the fresh water coming down the river is probably gentler on their skin than salty seawater.

Fans of the popular, award-winning BBC Earth television series will delight in this fascinating coffee table book which is the companion book to the third and most recent installment, Frozen Planet. With a foreword written by broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, the book is divided into seven chapters which follow the seasons as well as discuss the impact of global warming on the poles. The final chapter offers readers a “behind the scenes” look at how the photographers lived, travelled and obtained such spectacular shots during the creation of the television series and the book. Reading the book, one can almost hear the mellifluous voice of the narrator and imagine the panoramic views of the mountain ranges and the sea ice. The photography is absolutely stunning, some examples being the giant tubular icebergs in the Weddell Sea, their grey, white and aqua tints reflected in the icy waters, and the kittiwakes in a fishing frenzy in front of a background of blue glacial ice. Rare photos of animals in the wild add to the awesomeness of the book which is meant to be savoured in small bites. It is just too rich for a continuous read. Maps and an index are provided.

internal art     The first chapter introduces readers to the polar regions which consist of mountain ranges, volcanoes, dry valleys and glaciers. Plant and animal inhabitants, temperatures, and the formation of icebergs are just a few of the topics in this chapter.

      Spring is the focus of the next chapter. This season brings a new kind of beauty to the harsh polar landscape as the low sun, just over the horizon, brings a special quality of light, “painting the sea ice and snow-covered mountains with soft pinks, oranges and blues.” It is also polar bear mating season. In this chapter, readers will find excellent photos of the polar bear’s seal hunting techniques, as well as information about penguins (macaroni, gentoo, chinstrap and Adélie), seal courtship, the various birds and whales that return to the region, and the patches of vegetation that emerge in spring.

      Summer brings 24 hours of sunlight and melting sea ice. The warmth results in a massive increase in marine life (one school of Arctic cod was estimated to contain more than 900 million fish). It is in summer that the greatest seasonal change takes place with respect to the sea ice around Antarctica. There is a reduction of ice from 19 million square kilometers to a mere 3 million by the end of autumn. This releases huge amount of algae which provide food for krill. In turn, the krill multiply exponentially so that a vast area of the ocean turns red with krill. Krill is an important food source for the various types of whales in Antarctica. A few of the interesting topics in this chapter are the hunting techniques of whales, and the many adaptations of plants to survive the harsh climate and short growing season. For instance, all plants grow short and small so that they are less affected by winds; some have fine hairs which trap warm air, while others form dense clumps to produce warmth, and some plants track the sun and have open “bowls” which also provide a warm shelter for insects.

      Seasonal change in the polar regions is more intense than it is in other regions of the world, and autumn is no exception. Many of these changes are described in the fourth chapter. Several species of animals depart for lower latitudes while some of the few that remain burrow under the ice and snow. Autumn is rutting season for muskoxen and caribou, and it is also the season during which polar bears fast, whales moult, leopard seals hunt, and the tundra explodes in a gorgeous display of colour, primarily vibrant red. This chapter also provides information about the formation of snow crystals as well as the various ways in which animals prepare for winter.

      Winter at the poles is characterized by darkness and the moon’s eerie bluish cast on the ice for half of each month. It is also a time for the spectacular aurora borealis show in the sky. In the fifth chapter, some of the topics include Emperor penguins, life in underground dens and burrows, and the birth of polar bear cubs. There are wonderful photos of a polar bear’s birthing den as well as sequential photos of a wolf pack hunting a bison.

      In order to live at the poles, the inhabitants must be resilient. Dolgans, the “reindeer people” who live in the extreme northern part of Siberia, are featured in a portion of the sixth chapter. But the main focus of this chapter is climate change and its effects, both positive and negative. On the negative side, glaciers are shrinking, the polar bear population is diminishing, and female polar bears are in poorer condition than they were only a few years ago. As well, the combination of coastal erosion and the melting of permafrost has caused buildings in the town of Shishmaref in Alaska to collapse into the sea. On the positive side, the people of southern Greenland have more time to graze their sheep on the mountains, to grow their crops and to travel by boat. The growing season has been extended by three weeks, and cod, which prefer warmer waters, have begun to appear off Greenland’s coasts again.

      The final chapter showcases the making of the Frozen Planet television program, from the logistics and challenges of the various photo shoots (including weather, travel, technical difficulties and encounters with animals) to recollections of many special moments. In order to reach the remote areas of the polar regions, photographers travelled by nuclear submarine, helicopter, icebreaker and snowmobile. Documenting a wolf hunt, exploring ice-crystal caves, and walking amongst tens of thousands of penguins are just a few of the highlights described by photographers. The stories behind some of the breathtaking photographs (aerial views, close-ups and rare footage of animals in the wild) are fascinating.

      Well worthy of purchase, this spectacular book is the perfect companion to the television series and is guaranteed to have an impact on the reader. It not only celebrates the wonder of the poles and their inhabitants, but Frozen Planet: A World Beyond Imagination also imparts an important message about the fragility of the environment and the responsibility of humans to act as stewards for our planet.

Highly Recommended.

Gail Hamilton is a former teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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