Wet and Fat: Whales and Seals of Newfoundland and Labrador


136 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography
ISBN 0-919519-76-8





Reviewed by Janet Arnett

Janet Arnett is the former campus manager of adult education at Ontario’s Georgian College. She is the author of Antiques and Collectibles: Starting Small, The Grange at Knock, and 673 Ways to Save Money.



The intriguing title refers to the two main factors in the life of whales and seals. Their home is the water, and the other key to their existence is fat, the blubber that reduces heat loss, acts as insulation and a food reserve, and provides buoyance. The very essence of life for these sea mammals is to be “wet and fat.”

The book covers the 17 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises and the six species of seals and walrus seen in Newfoundland and Labrador waters. It is a field guide, with text and illustrations slanted to help the amateur naturalist recognize and correctly identify individual species.

For each species, the shape is given in outline and by comparative size. This is supplemented with illustrations of key details: the head shape and size for seals, the shape of the blow, dorsal fin, and flukes on diving for whales. In addition to numerous practical and informative illustrations, for each of the 23 species covered there is a full-page stipple drawing by well-known Canadian artist Don Wright. In most cases the quality of these is far beyond illustration. They are works of fine art, showing sensitivity and empathy for these massive sea creatures. A haunting quality underlines the elusiveness and mystery of the animals, making the drawings unforgettable.

This visual material is supported by easy-to-read text covering distribution, abundance, food, coloration, natural history, field marks, and local stories and accounts. Much of the identification information is grouped in point form, by species — in effect, a checklist.

The book also covers the how and where of whale watching, with a chapter on the interaction of whales and seabirds and an excellent section on strandings. A glossary, maps, a bibliography, a film list, a list of relevant books for children, and teachers’ resources and addresses of contact groups round out the text.

The authors are associated with the Whale Research Group of Memorial University. Their extensive academic and field experience shows in the richness of information and detail; their dedication to their subject shows in the meticulous care and exuberance evident throughout.


Lien, Jon, Leesa Fawcett, and Sue Staniforth, “Wet and Fat: Whales and Seals of Newfoundland and Labrador,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed August 19, 2022, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36532.