Threatened marine creatures in New England is subject of new book by URI science writer

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Author to make several upcoming presentations around state

KINGSTON, R.I. – August 17, 2009 – Todd McLeish enjoys nothing more than joining biologists in their fieldwork studying rare wildlife and writing about his experiences.

His newest book, Basking with Humpbacks: Tracking Threatened Marine Life in New England Waters, recounts his adventures tagging basking sharks in Cape Cod Bay, surveying seaweed in Long Island Sound, snorkeling for bay scallops in Rhode Island salt ponds, and catching Atlantic halibut off DownEast Maine, among many others.

A science writer in the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Communications and Marketing, McLeish has been writing about wildlife and environmental issues for more than 20 years for such publications as Northern Woodlands, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Natural New England, WildBird, Earthwatch Journal, and Country Journal.

“The human population here in New England has a tremendous impact on the marine environment of the region, and as a result many of the wild creatures living there are facing a great many challenges to their survival,” said McLeish, who also coordinates the URI Speakers Bureau. “Basking with Humpbacks tells the stories of some of the most threatened marine species by combining my first-person adventures with a discussion of the animals’ life history and interviews with the biologists who are studying and protecting them.”

A resident of Burrillville, McLeish takes his readers along on an entertaining journey as biologists put him to work assisting with their research. Along the way he learned how the blood of horseshoe crabs is used in medical research, watched as stranded sea turtles were released back into the ocean, helped harbor porpoises escape from fishing weirs, and stuck his arms into burrows on uninhabited islands to find nesting seabirds.

McLeish is scheduled to make numerous public presentations about his book around the region in coming weeks. These include talks at the Riverside Public Library in East Providence on Aug. 24; the New Bedford Ocean Explorium on Aug. 25; the Kettle Pond Visitor’s Center in Charlestown on Aug. 26; the Maury Loontjens Public Library in Narragansett on Sept. 16; the Audubon Society of Rhode Island in Bristol on Sept. 17; the Jesse Smith Library in Burrillville on Sept. 23; and the Warwick Public Library on Oct. 8. Signed books will be for sale at each of these events.

“While the wildlife is clearly the star of each chapter, the biologists are also the heroes in the book as well, because not only are they working to protect these species, but they also share a great deal about themselves and their research to help readers understand the issues the wildlife face,” McLeish said.

Several URI researchers are featured in the book, including horseshoe crab scientist Mary Jane James-Pirri, seaweed expert Carol Thornber, and sea turtle researcher Malia Schwartz. McLeish didn’t want to rely entirely on URI experts, though, so he sought out marine biologists at universities and government agencies throughout the region.

“But almost everywhere I turned, many of the non-URI experts I found ended up having connections to URI,” he said. “My basking shark chapter features three scientists who I didn’t know were URI alumni until after I finished interviewing them, and the same was true for my chapters on harlequin ducks and bay scallops.”

Basking with Humpbacks is a follow-up to McLeish’s first book, Golden Wings and Hairy Toes: Encounters with New England’s Most Imperiled Wildlife, which was published in 2007 and features the most endangered species in the region, including the American burying beetle, roseate tern, northern red-bellied cooter, Karner blue butterfly, and North Atlantic right whale.

The Boston Globe called McLeish “a sharp-eyed and fearless observer in the field,” while Booklist noted that his “combination of firsthand reporting and background science is irresistible and will leave the reader caring about the ultimate fate of each species.”

Basking with Humpbacks by Todd McLeish

FALL 2009 Schedule of Appearances

September 16, 7 p.m.

Maury Loontjens Memorial Library

Narragansett, RI

September 17, 7 p.m.

Audubon Society of Rhode Island

Bristol, RI

September 23, 6:30 p.m.

Jesse Smith Memorial Library

Burrillville, RI

September 24, 7 p.m.

Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

Waquoit, Mass.

September 30, 6:30 p.m.

Palmer Public Library

Palmer, Mass.

October 1, 7:30 p.m.

Potopaug Audubon Society

Essex, Conn.

October 6, 6:30 p.m.

Mystic-Noank Public Library

Mystic, Conn.

October 8, 7 p.m.

Warwick Public Library

Warwick, RI

October 29, 7 p.m.

Windsor Locks Public Library

Windsor Locks, Conn.

November 8, 5 p.m.

Stonington Public Library

Stonington, Conn.

November 10, 4 p.m.

Ithaca College

Ithaca, NY

November 12, 7 p.m.

Weston Public Library

Weston, Mass.

November 16, 7 p.m.

North Kingstown Free Library

North Kingstown, R.I.