Every year, The Royal Zoological Society of NSW acknowledges the outstanding publications that significantly increase our knowledge of the fauna of the Australasian region with particular emphasis on its conservation. This year was no exception; however, the awards were held online.

Each year, the calibre of nominations and awardees for The Royal Zoological Society (RZS) of NSW Whitley Awards are exceptional. The awards are named after Gilbert Whitley, who was the curator of fishes at the Australian Museum (AM) for many years and was also heavily involved in the RZS NSW. When he died, he left an item in his will to support the publication of books relevant to the conservation of the fauna of Australasia. Since 1979, Gilbert’s legacy lives on in these awards, which remain one of the Society’s most acclaimed initiatives. There is no equivalent Award for zoological publishing worldwide; the Whitley Awards are unique.

AMS351_V15796 Whitley

Gilbert Whitley, Curator of Fishes: 1922-1964. Gilbert Whitley was the Australian Museum Fish Curator for 42 years.

Image: -
© Australian Museum

The two most prestigious awards are the Whitley Medal, for the author/s or editor/s of the most outstanding book published in the previous year; and, the Certificate of Special Commendation for the author/editor of a lifetime of zoological publishing. These awards, together with a number of Certificates of Commendation, cover a broad range zoological disciplines that can be highly technical, or they may aim at a wider and more general readership.

In previous years, the Whitley Awards have been presented in the foyer of the AM, and more recently in the historic and now beautifully restored Westpac Long Gallery. However this year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, presentation of the Awards can only be made in printed and/or electronic form.

With a record number of 17 Award-winning publications, there certainly has been no evidence of any diminution in either the quantity or the quality of nominations in 2020. Insects are featured in the two major Whitley Awards; this is not entirely unexpected, as they are by far the dominant group of animals on Earth today. The Whitley medal-winning Hawkmoths of Australia Identification, Biology and Distribution is everything and more that keen aficionados of this group of charismatic moths could have hoped for. The senior author is Max Moulds, a Senior Fellow of the AM and previously the Collection Manager in Entomology at the AM for many years. With co-authors are James Tuttle and David Lane, and published by CSIRO Publishing, this book is an impressive volume more than 30 years in the making.

Cover image of Hawkmoths of Australia, Identification, Biology and Distribution. Volume 13 Maxwell Moulds, James Tuttle, David Lane.

Cover image of: Maxwell Moulds, James Tuttle, David Lane. Hawkmoths of Australia, Identification, Biology and Distribution. Volume 13, CSIRO Publishing: https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/7352/#contents

Image: CSIRO Publishing
© CSIRO Publishing

AM staff member, Dr Chris Reid, has also been included in these prestigious awards. Dr Reid was a contributor to Australian Beetles Volume Two: Archostemata, Myxophaga, Adephaga, Polyphaga (part), edited by Adam Slipinski, John F Lawrence – a compendium, and the second book in their trilogy, that has involved some of the most prominent beetle experts in Australia and globally. This volume was awarded a Certificate of Commendation (taxonomy). In addition to AM staff being honoured with awards, Dr Mark Eldridge (Principal Research Scientist, Mammalogy, Australian Museum Research Institute) was the reviewer of another Whitley Award; Flight Lines by Andrew Darby, published by Allen & Unwin.

Certificates of Commendation were also awarded to books published for children. This category is of special significance in the Whitley Awards as they encourage our next generation of keen naturalists that may become professional zoologists. These include, One Careless Night, the tragic tale of the demise of the Tasmanian Tiger by Christina Booth, published by Walker Books, Australia. On a more positive note, Windcatcher, is an account of the extraordinary annual migration of the Short-tailed Shearwater, from their nesting rookeries in the Southern Ocean to feeding grounds in the nutrient-rich waters of the Arctic Circle; a round trip of 30,000 Km by Diane Jackson Hill, Craig Smith and published by CSIRO Publishing.

The Special Certificate of Commendation was awarded to Emeritus Professor Tim New, who is widely recognised as one of the world’s leading advocates for insect conservation. Tim has authored an impressive 480 refereed papers and book chapters and 50 books published on a very broad array of issues in entomological and conservation biology.

We hope that in 2021 we will again be able to host the Whitley Awards in the AM, but in the meantime please check out the RZS website and listen at your leisure the presentations: https://www.rzsnsw.org.au/grants-awards/previous-winners/2020-winners

Dr Pat Hutchings, President of the RZS and Senior Fellow, Australian Museum Research Institute

The short acceptance video of RZS NSW Whitley Awards 2020 - Medal Winner.