HIS BOOK IS A BIG OLD UNIT, as they say of rugby props. It weighs 2.3kg. That’s about £1.50 per 100g. You’d better have strong legs on your coffee-table.
In their preface, the well-known biologist/photographer authors intimate that they wanted to avoid the sort of sensationalist book designed to scare people out of the sea.
Instead, they wanted to look at those marine animals that are supremely adapted to hunting prey.
I’m not sure that I entirely buy that. The big groups of animals featured here do seem to be the very ones that regularly feature when divers consider the stingers and biters most likely to cause them damage (albeit rarely deliberately), though I was interested to see surgeonfish given their own section because I hadn’t appreciated the damage they can do. In fact I think I was looking for more insights of that sort.
After all, most sea creatures that hunt mobile prey have evolved some sort of effective predatory strategy, otherwise they wouldn’t have managed to survive this long in the aquatic jungle. And to their particular prey, they’re all deadly.
As it is, the book is divided into three main sections – the big stuff includes all types of shark, seal, barracuda and other larger creatures; reef-dwellers range from blue-ringed octopuses to crocodiles; and stingers embrace jellyfish, rays and more.
The text doesn’t take that long to read and I would have liked a bit more detail on the specifics of what made each of these groups so deadly, but I suppose that when, for instance, you lump all sharks together, from great white to nurse, that is never going to be an easy task.
There is also the occasional confusion about whether you’re reading running text or a caption for a particular image, because the same font is used throughout.
So it’s a jolt when you’re told that the striped pattern of a barracuda provides excellent camouflage among whip corals, yet the picture above the text shows only the fish’s head.
I would have liked to see each picture captioned with the species and where it was taken, if not on the same page then in a key at the back, because this book is so picture-led.
And very nice pictures they are too, mostly taken by the authors, though I did wonder about the choices at times.
For example, eels in general are included as deadly creatures but almost all the pictures show morays, along with a couple of ribbon eels (where are the congers?).
Then there is a long nudibranch section, and of course sea-slugs do look great in photographs, but why also include not one but three flamingo-tongue pictures, when the authors have already pointed out that these are not nudibranchs, but snails?
Flamingo tongues do happily absorb toxins from the soft corals they eat, so their appearance is a warning to predators not to take them lightly, but one photo might have sufficed.
I’m afraid I have carped a bit about some of the details because I feel a few tricks were missed, but these authors are extremely talented, and it’s only because I care!
I certainly don’t want to take away from the fact that this is one fine-looking book of underwater life, and the splendid matt-black cover with its laminated jellyfish does it proud.
As it is, £1.50 per 100g turns out to be pretty good value, especially if what you’re seeking is an impressive-looking gift.
And a particularly nice touch is the final chapter touching on the deadliest predator of all (you have one guess) and input from the great Dr Sylvia Earle on the perils of plastic waste.
Hardback, 320pp, £35