A shocking, aggressively written marine park exposé.

BENEATH THE SURFACE

KILLER WHALES, SEAWORLD, AND THE TRUTH BEYOND BLACKFISH

A former SeaWorld killer whale trainer dispenses serious allegations against the company and the industry at large.

In Hargrove’s unnerving opening sequence, he writes of being antagonistically nudged into the center of a performance pool by an aggressive, 6,000-pound orca. It is with this same unique amalgam of “dread and wonderment” that Hargrove characterizes both his longtime, high-ranking professional relationship with orca whales and his astonishment at how broken the performance animal arena has become—particularly at SeaWorld. He writes of a lifelong affinity for whales, an adoration that began as a boy on his annual trips to SeaWorld in Orlando and continued with an apprenticeship in Texas and, ultimately, years spent as a senior instructor at SeaWorld San Antonio and in France. Though his appreciation for and understanding of the species are abundantly clear, the author addresses the inherent dangers these oversized mammals can pose to even seasoned instructors while calling out SeaWorld’s misdeeds and cruel methods employed to obtain, control and artificially breed their stable of whales. The public performances can be treacherous, he writes, and leave little margin for error since the whales, while fully trained, can still exhibit aggressive behavior and attack without warning, as chronicled in the lethal assault and corporate obfuscation case seen in the independent documentary Blackfish (2013). Hargrove divulges some of the lesser-known, more insidious facts about marine parks: the ways whales are artificially impregnated, how boredom can become their undoing, and that these virtual “prisoners in the park” are subjected to secretive food-deprivation tactics to ensure that they understand “that it is best to cooperate.” Hargrove believes the basis of SeaWorld’s bottom-line corporate strategy was to treat the whales as a “company asset on the ledgers” and “a matter for spreadsheets.” The author left the industry in 2012 after an “intellectual conversion” in which he realized the lives of trained whales were a living hell.

A shocking, aggressively written marine park exposé.

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-137-28010-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

THE BOOK OF EELS

OUR ENDURING FASCINATION WITH THE MOST MYSTERIOUS CREATURE IN THE NATURAL WORLD

An account of the mysterious life of eels that also serves as a meditation on consciousness, faith, time, light and darkness, and life and death.

In addition to an intriguing natural history, Swedish journalist Svensson includes a highly personal account of his relationship with his father. The author alternates eel-focused chapters with those about his father, a man obsessed with fishing for this elusive creature. “I can’t recall us ever talking about anything other than eels and how to best catch them, down there by the stream,” he writes. “I can’t remember us speaking at all….Because we were in…a place whose nature was best enjoyed in silence.” Throughout, Svensson, whose beat is not biology but art and culture, fills his account with people: Aristotle, who thought eels emerged live from mud, “like a slithering, enigmatic miracle”; Freud, who as a teenage biologist spent months in Trieste, Italy, peering through a microscope searching vainly for eel testes; Johannes Schmidt, who for two decades tracked thousands of eels, looking for their breeding grounds. After recounting the details of the eel life cycle, the author turns to the eel in literature—e.g., in the Bible, Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind, and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum—and history. He notes that the Puritans would likely not have survived without eels, and he explores Sweden’s “eel coast” (what it once was and how it has changed), how eel fishing became embroiled in the Northern Irish conflict, and the importance of eel fishing to the Basque separatist movement. The apparent return to life of a dead eel leads Svensson to a consideration of faith and the inherent message of miracles. He warns that if we are to save this fascinating creature from extinction, we must continue to study it. His book is a highly readable place to begin learning.

Unsentimental nature writing that sheds as much light on humans as on eels.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296881-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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