Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Shark Bible - review by JSD!

Fiji Bull Sharks - pic by Gary Peart- click for detail!


The bible is out.
And JSD has penned a review hat contains a reference to the Fiji Bull Shark - so I really got no choice but post it in its entirety!
So there!
Sharks of the World: A Fully Illustrated Guide (Hardcover) 

It is not every day that a book appears that has the unmistakable authority and quality of a classic; rarer still that such a tome should be the launch publication of a new publisher. Wild Nature Press' Sharks of the World - A Fully Illustrated Guide is such a work. 

We shouldn't be surprised. 
The team at Wild Nature Press has been illustrating and designing elegant natural history books for mainstream publishers for years and has merely transferred its talents to its own publishing house. Nor did this book appear fully formed from the primordial swamp. It evolved from the Collins Field Guide: Sharks of the World of 2005 and has the same authors (Leonard Compagno and Sarah Fowler) and illustrator (Marc Dando), plus the additional taxonomic input of David Ebert. 

The evolution has been successful. 
The new book is considerably larger than the old (compare, say, a Grey Reef Shark with a full-blown Fijian Bull Shark) and this must come as a relief not only to readers who wish to feast their eyes on the endless variations-on-a-theme that are sharks, but also to the wonderfully illustrated animals themselves. Packed with musculature and movement, they are now less likely accidentally to swim off the page. Furthermore, the species described herein have grown to over 500 (there are some 90 recently named sharks). 

The book basically divides into 2 parts. 
After the foreword (by scientist John Stevens) there is a grand tour through the biology and natural history of the animals that deals with every topic you could ask for. Illustrated with occasional photographs and a great many colour drawings, as well as maps, diagrams and charts, the intricacies of shark biology as well as crucial themes such as fisheries, conservation and management, are explained. On page 59 one reaches the raison d'être of what has been: the magisterially presented description of every shark from the known knowns to the known unknowns. Each has its own entry which includes a detailed line drawing and goes on to describe size, distribution (via a map), teeth, identification, habitat, behaviour, biology and conservation status. To enrich this section the sharks are also depicted in full colour plates and also via some photographs (of living sharks). These photographs take us far beyond the usual suspects: consider the Greenland Shark (p. 157), the Caribbean Roughshark (p. 162), the Goblin Shark - I kid you not! - (p. 216), the Blackmouth Catshark (p. 347), or the Snaggletooth Shark (p. 437). 

But there is more. 
Appendices include a glossary, discussion of oceans and seas, techniques of field observation and fin identification, recommendations for further reading, a list of scientific and conservation organisations, online information sources, and index. Phew. 

Only an ignoramus would claim that sharks are not sufficiently interesting to deserve so impressive a treatment.
I would defy anyone to pick up Sharks of the World - A Fully Illustrated Guide and not pause in wonder at any number of beasts swimming far off the beaten track: the yellow-striped Atlantic Weasel Shark, the abyssal Demon and Ghost Catsharks, the frankly ridiculous Winghead Shark, the hopelessly uncuddly Bramble Sharks. And that is long before one considers the over-sensationalised superstars such as the Whale Shark, Bull Shark, Tiger Shark and White Shark. 

 I cannot recommend this book highly enough so I won't. I can, however, wonder at how Wild Nature Press can follow this debut with a worthy successor. If they can make the fascinating this enthralling, perhaps they should set themselves a real challenge. Worms of the World, anyone?

Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch. 
Get it!

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