An exploration of the sea, “our most fertile stage, populated by wonderfully colorful characters acting out their lives in a daily drama.”
Stephen R. Palumbi (Marine Biology/Stanford Univ.; The Evolution Explosion: How Humans Cause Rapid Evolutionary Change, 2001, etc.) and his son, science writer Anthony R. Palumbi, explain that they have chosen to write about how life flourishes under the most extreme conditions in order to demonstrate “what life is fully capable of.” They begin in 1909 with the discovery of the Burgess Shale, a quarry in British Columbia where the fossilized remains of more than 65,000 marine creatures were discovered. The odd assortment of creatures that lived around 505 million years ago proved to be truly eye-opening for the scientists who discovered them—“hard to fit into the normal taxonomy of living invertebrates [with bodies] like unique jalopies assembled from random spare parts.” Out of this assembly of creatures, through the process of natural selection, life as we know it today evolved. The authors profile today's inhabitants of the planet's oceans, beginning with “single-celled organisms too small to see with the naked eye,” which nonetheless play an important ecological role in the chemistry of oceans and the food chain. The Palumbis probe life in the depths of the oceans and in tidewaters in successive chapters spotlighting the long-lived Bowhead whale; sea species that adapt to extremely high temperatures and others to cold; clownfish, which change gender, becoming male or female as circumstances dictate; and much more. The authors end with a warning that the oceans contain a complex ecology in which each species “thrives in its easily disrupted specialized niche.” Global warming and pollution threaten the destruction of marine life as we know it.
A sparkling appreciation of the wonderful variety of marine life that also communicates an important message.