A popular yet scholarly tour through the world of sharks, by a husband-and-wife team of veteran researchers (McMillan: Oceans: Life in the Deep, not reviewed, etc.).
“Sharks routinely remind us how much there still is to know about them,” warn the authors. Of the great white shark, for example, the one that haunts us the most, almost nothing is known about how many of them there are, how they reproduce, or the extent of their range. But at the same time Musick and McMillan are also merely being modest, for they do have plenty of information to impart, starting with the fact that sharks are an evolutionary success story par excellence, with identifiable species dating back some 540 million years. The pair chart the shark’s progress through the eons, and although the going can get a bit rough for the untrained (“The route to a neoselachian body was the distillation of key physical traits as cladodont features had given way to hybodont ones”), the two are quick to inject oxygen into the proceedings with entertaining descriptions of the many shark species. Besides our old friend the great white and other familiar types—hammerheads, tigers, blues—there are also the weasels and the wobbegongs, the catsharks and the houndsharks, the porbeagles, bonnetheads, and wingheads, even an angel shark. Musick and McMillan make digestible the workings of thermoregulation, negative buoyancy, drag reduction; they explain what is known of the shark’s senses, mating and nurturing activities, and even include research on shark cells. Importantly, they clarify that overfishing imperils the breed, and they lay bare what is known about attacks on humans, both those that are a part of simple feeding behavior and those that may be hostile responses to perceived threats.
Gratifyingly fluent for so erudite a study. The shark is elevated from creature of melodrama to elemental citizen of the marine habitat.