SOMETIMES WHEN YOU SLIT open the cellophane and balance a really well-produced book in your hands, it seems impossible that digital could ever completely replace ink on paper.
This delightful A5-format book is a case in point. From the simple white cover with its spot-varnished seahorse, to the blend of high-quality cut-out and square-cut photos of each species, delicately rendered diagrams, global distribution maps and life-size annotated silhouettes, this is a little package to savour.
What’s more, this book is extremely well-written and will appeal to non-diving wildlife enthusiasts as much as to divers. But if you have dived around the world you may well have seen and perhaps photographed a number of the species included here, and will enjoy finding out more about their unusual lives.
Sara Lourie may be a leading specialist in seahorse classification but this is no dry marine-biology textbook. She doesn’t showboat but has an easy style, so you find yourself turning the 70-odd introductory pages at a fair lick, accumulating a lot of useful background information as you go.
Evolution, myths, morphology, lifestyle, behaviour, reproduction and distribution are all engagingly covered. So are threats, because despite being the first marine species (apart from the coelacanth) to receive CITES protection, up to 20 million seahorses a year are thought to enter the Chinese medicine and the aquarium trades, quite apart from trawling and dredging by-catch.
Conservationists are directed towards Project Seahorse, of which Lourie is a research associate, and other campaigning groups.
The study of seahorses is clearly a fluid science, with some species previously considered distinct being revealed as one and the same, and vice versa. However, those represented
in these pages are thought to be comprehensive as of now.
This means that 47 members of the Syngnathidae family, including the seadragons and pipefish, get a page or a spread each, making the book an invaluable reference source.
The silhouettes remind us of how miniscule some pygmy seahorses are, especially given that our dive-masks enlarge them by a good third.
Buy this book as a gift for any marine-life diver, particularly a macro-photographer, and they’ll love you for it – but there’s every chance you’ll simply decide to keep it for yourself.
Hardback, 160pp, £16.99