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A Passion for the Pole: Research in Polar Regions.

A PASSION FOR THE POLE; ETHOLOGICAL RESEARCH IN POLAR REGIONS. Edited by LOUWRENS HACQUEBORD and NlENKE BOSCHMAN. Groningen, The Netherlands: Barkhuis Publishing, 2008. ISBN-13: 9789077922408. x [Plus] 149 p., 14 contributors, maps, b& w illus., bib. Softbound. [euro]20.

This book, the fourth volume in the "Circumpolar Studies" series, includes a preface, seven scientific papers, and an autobiography (followed by a bibliography) of Ko (Jacobus) de Korte, to whom this book is a tribute.

Ko is a well-known Dutch ecologist and polar explorer. Born in 1943, he grew up in a small farmer's family before starting his biology studies at the University of Amsterdam in 1961. His Arctic passion started very early during his childhood, but his first experiences were in Svalbard, in the late 1960s, and included one overwintering experience on the uninhabited east coast at Kap Lee. In addition to doing his assigned work on polar bears during this stay, Ko collected an impressive quantity of ornithological data from this remote region of Svalbard, data that were later published in three parts in the journal Beaufortia (1972). One year later, he was again on his way to one of these remote Arctic places that attracted him. Indeed, from 1973 to 1975, he returned every summer from April to September to the Scoresby Sund area of East Greenland, where he continued to study birds, especially the long-tailed skua (or long-tailed jaeger), as a doctoral project. The long-tailed skua is a fascinating bird that shares its time between offshore tropical waters in winter and Arctic tundra, where it depends on the cycling lemming, in summer. Ko was the first to make an extensive study of this amazing species, and his main results, published in four parts (de Korte, 1977, 1986), are undoubtedly his scientific masterpiece. This pioneering work, still the most quoted reference for the species, is also a classic example through which to teach students the comprehensive organization required to produce a biological study with lasting value.

After several other trips around the world, including two expeditions to South Georgia and the South Shetlands (1987 and 1990), where he wanted to study other skua species, Ko returned to his beloved Arctic. And because he now wanted to share with others the unbelievable moods and landscapes he had found there, he got more involved in the tourism activities he had begun in the 1980s. Visiting the remotest and wildest places was surely also an important motivation for him. Though travelling the Arctic seas with tourists on cruise ships was certainly very different from walking the tundra in search of skua, Ko managed to continue to collect important biological information on some of the least-known populations of rare Arctic species, e.g., the bowhead whale in Franz Josef Land and the ivory gull in Severnaya Zemlya (de Korte and Belikov, 1994; Volkov and de Korte, 1996). Like his work on the long-tailed skua, one study of ivory gulls that he published with Volkov (Volkov and de Korte, 2000) is undoubtedly a reference work for this endangered species.

In many ways, Ko can probably be regarded as a unique ornithologist and scientist. The deep motivations that brought him to work in the Arctic are very personal and original. The fulfillment of his scientific aims required both adventurous and intellectual skills. Finally, his work successfully merged the descriptive methods traditionally used in biology with the modern, systemic ecological approach. This book is worth reading for the preface presenting the author's life and the chapter he wrote himself alone--especially for polar researchers, who are often curious, as Ko is, about all polar "things" and not only those in their own field of science.

Individual readers will also find interest in some of the seven scientific papers, which cover very different fields: biological monitoring in NE Greenland, kleptoparasitism by frigate birds, color and size variation in the northern fulmar, barnacle goose breeding in West Spitzbergen, sea-birds and whales, baleen whales in the Antarctic, and Arctic amoebae. The rationale for collecting these papers in a single volume was that all were inspired to some extent by Ko's pioneering work. This approach is of course legitimate, but I found the subtitle of the book misleading; in my opinion, only one paper (on kleptoparasitism by frigate birds) truly deals with ethology. Some of the papers are mainly reviews, summaries, or updates of studies that were already published elsewhere, but others present very new and original results. One in particular (from L. Hacquebord) will surely interest most readers because it combines several fields of science (history, archaeology, mammalogy, and ornithology) in an attempt to explain the recent increase of some Arctic seabird species by the historical collapse of the bowhead whale stocks in the Atlantic Ocean. Hacquebord's approach to this topic is interesting and comprehensive, like Jacobus (Ko) de Korte's life.


de Korte, J. 1972. Birds, observed and collected by "De Nederlandse Spitsbergen Expeditie" in West and East Spitsbergen, 1967 and 1968-69. In 3 parts. Beaufortia 19(253):113-150; 19(257): 197-232; 20(261):23-58.

--. 1977. Ecology of the long-tailed skua (Stercorarius longicaudus Vieillot, 1819) at Scoresby Sund, East Greenland. Report of the Nederlandse Groenland Expeditie Scoresbysund 1973,1974 and 1975. Part 1: Distribution and density. Beaufortia 328:201-219.

--. 1986. Ecology of the long-tailed skua, Stercorarius longicaudus, at Scoresby Sund, East Greenland. Part 4: Breeding success and growth of young. Bijdragen tot de Dierkunde 56:1-23.

de Korte, J., and Belikov, S.E. 1994. Observations of Greenland whales (Balaena mysticetus), Zemlya Frantsa-Iosifa. Polar Record 30:135-136.

Volkov, A.E., and de Korte, J. 1996. Distribution and numbers of breeding ivory gulls Pagophila eburnea in Severnaja Zemlja, Russian Arctic. Polar Research 15:11-21.

--. 2000. Breeding ecology of the ivory gulls Pagophila eburnea in Sedova Archipelago, Severnaya Zemlya. In: Ebbinge, B.S., Mazourov, Y.L., and Tomkovich, P.S., eds. Heritage of the Russian Arctic: Research, conservation and international cooperation. Moscow: Ecopros Publishers. 483-500.

Olivier Gilg

Groupe de Recherche en Ecologie Arctique

16, rue de Vernot

F-2I440 Francheville
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Author:Gilg, Olivier
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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