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Sierra Magazine
At a Glance

The World of the Penguin
Text and photographs by Jonathan Chester
Sierra Club Books, $27.50

About 45 million years ago, the earliest penguins took to the land, leaving the sky to their petrel-like cousins. It turned out to be a very successful move, says renowned polar photographer Jonathan Chester in the engaging text that accompanies dozens of vivid photos of these eminently lovable birds and their often stark habitats. Penguins make up žan incredible 80 percent of all bird biomass in the subantarctic region, some in colonies numbering a million.

Besides the tuxedoed emperors and Adelies, whose ice follies are well-known, Chester introduces all 15 other species, adapted to the widest climate range in the animal kingdom, from Antarctica to the equatorial Galapagos Islands. Each species has its niche, but all are bound to vast ocean currents circling between Antarctica and the tips of three other continents.

We may be drawn to penguins because of their comically endearing people-like qualities, but Chester reminds us that we've been less than kind to them. In the 19th century, for example, millions of royal penguins on Macquarie Island were boiled down and rendered into oil--a pint per bird--until international outrage resulted in the island being declared a sanctuary in 1920. Today, five penguin species are variously threatened by climate change, fertilizer mining, overfishing, and oil spills. By evoking wonder at the beauty of these birds and their complex evolution, Chester leaves no doubt about the need to ensure their survival.

--Bob Schildgen


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