UNLIKELY AS IT SEEMS, a new book about marine biology that contains not one colour photograph is a candidate for my dive-related book of the year. And I’m writing this in April.
Eye of the Shoal is a clever book. It’s a sort of Blue Planet “wonders of the underwater world” concept achieved through words on the page rather than images on the screen. And if that claim seems as over-bold as the book’s tagline, it’s because the quality of the writing, observation and content selection succeed in absorbing the reader before he or she can even begin to pine for visual aids.
Helen Scales is a marine-biologist scuba- and, more recently, freediver, a conservationist and a regular BBC radio broadcaster. Her latest book is based around a nine-month trip taking in 10 countries and a great deal of prior knowledge.
Previous books Spirals in Time and Poseidon's Steed dealt with molluscs and seahorses respectively, but Eye of the Shoal is all about fish. Chapters cover broad themes such as coloration, light effects, shoaling, feeding, toxicity, sound, ancestors and feeling pain, and the text jumps lightly about within these loose frameworks in a way that can appear to be free-associating but always amounts to a coherent whole.
There’s a lot on interesting stuff about the history of marine biology and the contributions of some of its outstanding practitioners. The chapters are buffered by fish legends from around the world, and excellent stylised collage line illustrations by Aaron John Gregory lead off each section.