Book Review: Manatee Rescue by Nicola Davies

Manatee Rescue by Nicola Davies
Manatee Rescue by Nicola Davies

“Manatee Rescue” by Nicola Davies (Candlewick Press, 2015) is a middle grade (grades 4-8) children’s book about a rescued baby manatee in the Amazon. In the backmatter, we find out that this book is based on a true-life story.

There are three types of manatees, the West Indian, African and Amazonian. This book is about the ones that live along the Amazon River in South America.

The protagonist is Manuela. She grows up in a culture where killing manatees is a status symbol. She looks forward to the day when she can kill one alongside her father Silvio. Manuela and Silvio succeed in killing a mother manatee, but nothing prepares Manuela for the instant bond she feels for the manatee calf. She secretly vows to raise the calf and return it to the wild.

Manuela and her father take the two-month-old calf home, and Silvio sells the calf as a pet despite Manuela’s protests. Later that night, Manuela and her friend Libia steal the calf and bring it to Granny Raffy’s. Raffy often rehabilitates wild animals.

At Raffy’s, the two girls learn to take care of the calf, from nursing him to cleaning out his pond. Manuela bonds with the calf, who prefers her feeding him his bottle full of milk.

The two girls make a list of things to do, the most important ones (and seemingly impossible) being getting the villagers to care about and never hunt manatees again.

Without giving away the rest of the story away, I will say this book has a happy ending, both fictionally and in real-life.
The backmatter is informative not only about the manatees themselves, but also about the relationship between the natives and the manatees.

Although meant for kids, I think conservation-minded and animal-loving adults will enjoy this quick read (105 pages). It’s a perfect introduction to manatees and community-based conservation for all ages.

Book Review: Tilikum’s Dream by Tracey Lynn Coryell

Tilikum's Dream by Tracey Lynn Coryell
Tilikum’s Dream by Tracey Lynn Coryell

Tilikum’s Dream (Eifrig Publishing, 2015) is a rhyming children’s book about Tilikum, a killer whale, who recently died (January 6, 2017) in his concrete pool of 21 years at Sea World. It is written by Tracey Lynn Coryell and illustrated by Shelley Marie Overton. I liked Tilikum’s Dream because it is beautifully illustrated and the sparse rhyming prose lends well to the music recording that can be downloaded. It has a strong anti-captivity message not just for killer whales, but for all marine mammals chained for life in captivity. It has a happy ending, unlike the real Tilikum who died never tasting the ocean from which he was born. The short text lends this book towards young school-age children who probably have visited a zoo or aquarium and can imagine Tilikum’s predicament. Proceeds of this book will benefit Blue Freedom, an international non-profit founded by a teenager concerned with Tilikum’s and captive killer whales’ welfare. They have created a film titled “Voiceless,” which is available free on YouTube.

Background on Tilikum:
Tilikum was taken from the icy waters off of Iceland when he was approximately 2 years old. Ever since then he has been in captivity, first at Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia, Canada. It was there that he killed his first human with the help of two female killer whales. In 1991 Tilikum was sold to Sea World, where he has been ever since. He killed two more people there, including his trainer, Dawn Brancheau. He then became primarily a sperm donor, his genes in 56% of the killer whales in captivity at Sea World. He was the largest orca in captivity at 22 feet long and 12,500 pounds. May he RIP.

To read Tilikum’s Dream for free (one book a month for free!) click here

Moana Movie Review-Is it Appropriate for Young Children?

Moana and Maui photo by Disney
Moana and Maui photo by Disney

“Moana” is a coming-of-age story of a girl from a South Pacific island called Motunui. She is the daughter of her village’s chief. She is chosen by the ocean (and guided by her grandmother) to return the green stone heart of Te Fiti, an island goddess. One thousand years ago the demi-god Maui stole the heart, which gives birth to life itself, for his people but instead spread darkness. The island goddess becomes a lava monster. It is up to the modern-day Maui and Moana to return the stone heart after the fish disappear from her island, and coconuts are found spoiled.

My 7-year-old daughter and I both enjoyed “Moana,” though she didn’t like the scenes with the lava monster, which looks like it belongs in Middle Earth (the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings world). As a marine biologist I was disappointed that there were not more marine animals depicted in the movie. I was very happy that one of my favorite animals, the manta ray, has a prominent role.

Moana’s sidekicks are decidedly terrestrial, a piglet and a dumb but comical rooster. It’s true that the open ocean is often called a “biological desert,” but it would have been nice if Disney could have celebrated the diverse life that does live in the ocean. I was hopeful after the scene with a toddler Moana in which she helps a baby sea turtle make it to the ocean, and she looks into the ocean, which parts like an aquarium for her. I was happy though to see South Pacific culture celebrated with song and homages to their wayfaring ancestors. And there is no prince in the movie for Moana to chase after, a first for a Disney “princess” movie.

Disney does show the power of the ocean, from thunderstorms creating big waves that overwhelm Moana’s boat, to Moana being thrown into the ocean deliberately and by accident. A good portion of the movie (at least half?) is just Maui, Moana and the rooster Heihei on Moana’s boat. I would not recommend this movie to toddlers, as during solo songs and other dialogue-driven scenes, the toddler behind me would kick more and his younger brother would cry. There aren’t any unnecessary scenes, it’s just that there is a lull at times.

I was surprised that the relationship between Maui and Moana isn’t more cordial initially, but the story grows in intensity as their relationship becomes stronger and friendly.

I didn’t especially like the scene in which Moana and Maui go to the realm of (unrealistic at least) monsters and steal back Maui’s magical fish hook. The fish hook is pivotal to the story, as it allows Maui to transform into different animals to fight the lava monster. The hermit crab is strange, and I didn’t really hear the lyrics as I was worried about our heroes getting the fish hook. The monsters aren’t realistic with their neon colors and fantastical design, but could still scare young children.

In short, I enjoyed “Moana” and would recommend it to any Disney movie fan. Ocean lovers will appreciate the reverence shown to the ocean. Just don’t expect “The Little Mermaid” when it comes to animals. Almost all of the action occurs on the water, not below.

What did you think of Moana?

Finding Dory Movie Review by a Marine Biologist

Dory from Finding Dory picture by: Disney/Pixar
Dory from Finding Dory picture by: Disney/Pixar

Finding Dory was an immensely enjoyable movie, exactly what I expected from a Pixar/Disney movie. The short animated film shown before the movie, “Piper,” (about a baby shorebird) is worth the price of admission alone! Don’t miss it!

I genuinely laughed and I went through a full range of emotions, from sadness all the way to I’m so happy that I’m crying! The movie takes place at the fictional Marine Life Institute in the not-so-fictional Morro Bay, California.

My only scientific beef with the movie is that the waters of California are a frigid 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Dory, Nemo and Marlin live in a tropical coral reef where the seawater is a warm 70’s-80’s degrees Fahrenheit. The gang couldn’t survive the cold waters off of California. Bailey the Beluga Whale is from the Arctic Ocean so he could survive, but Destiny the Whale Shark needs warmer waters (up to 30 degrees North and South for you geography buffs).

The movie starts with Dory as a youngster, doe-eyed and voiced by a child (not Ellen DeGeneres yet). Dory’s parents treat her short-term memory loss as a disability, a parallel that many human parents will identify with. It isn’t until later flashbacks (yes, Dory will remember some events!) that we see how she and her parents were separated.

The whole movie rests on one memory of Dory’s of “The Jewel of Morro Bay,” which turns out to be the Marine Life Institute. MLI rehabilitates marine animals for eventual release. We have the documentary “Blackfish” to thank for that, as originally the MLI was just an aquarium (that doesn’t release animals).

Ellen DeGeneres does a fabulous job of keeping the audience entertained while keeping you involved in the story. One note if taking young children, my 6 year old was frightened by the squid chase when Dory, Marlin and Nemo first arrive in Morro Bay. She enjoyed the rest of the movie though.

Hank the cranky octopus was animated amazingly, even if his camouflaging abilities were a bit exaggerated for the real world (not out of place in their animation world though).

My new favorite character is Destiny. I didn’t like how she had poor eyesight (anyone who has snorkeled with whale sharks knows that they can turn on a dime in order to avoid swimming into you!) But she won me over anyways with her warm personality.

They didn’t say Bailey’s, the beluga whale, name enough so moviegoers may forget it. The ending is far fetched, but should satisfy most audiences, especially those into animal rights.

I highly recommend Finding Dory. It was well worth the wait, and it will delight fans of Finding Nemo. It can stand alone for those who have not seen Finding Nemo, like young children.

Last note, stay until the very end of the credits for a treat. Hint, we’ve seen them before, somewhere…

Book Excerpt Part 2-Ocean Country by Liz Cunningham

Humpback whale breaching
Humpback whale breaching © 2015 Charles Costello

Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage From Peril to Hope in Her Quest to Save the Seas is available in independent bookstores now or at

We spent four more days like that, looking for whales, watching them on the surface, and getting into the water with them.The stormy seas passed, and the waters calmed. Humpbacks are notorious for their playful acrobatics.We saw them breach and extend their heads out of the water to have a look at us (“spyhop”), and slap the surface of the water with their flukes (“peduncle throw”). A peduncle throw can mean many things. It can mean “bug off, fella,” if a female is tired of a male’s advances. Or a male that has established himself as a female’s “escort” might use it to discourage another male’s advances.
“Sometimes the calves,” Gene told us,“when they get playful, will get a little wound up and wander off and get a little bit too far from mom. They can get separated quite quickly and then mom will fire off a peduncle throw like,‘Hey, Junior! Get back here!’ ”
Once when we were in the water with a mother and calf, the mother rose vertically in the water to breathe. Straight ahead of us, forty-five feet of whale vertical beneath the sur- face. A gentle, living, breathing creature over four stories tall.
And well, I haven’t told you about all of us in the tender. The gear stowed at the center of the boat included small fins and masks and wet suits a third the size of ours. Gene’s partner, Cloe, had come with her daughter, Lucaya, who was six years old. And Dave, a friend of Gene’s since high school, was there with his wife, Suzanne, and their daughter, Eva.
There was a contagious mirth that we couldn’t have replicated without our younger boat-mates.When the humpbacks were “pec slapping,” slapping their pectoral fins on the surface to signal to each other, Lucaya and Eva leaned over the railing and squealed, “The whales are waving! The whales are waving!” (They were right.The whales were waving.)
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