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Book review – The lady and the sharks

The-lady-and-the-sharks_Eugene-Clark
Holotype, Etmopterus joungi n. sp. (CAS 227957), female, 456 mm TL (435 mm TL after preservation), CAS-227957. Photo by D. A. Ebert.

THE LADY AND THE SHARKS by Eugenie Clark

 

the Peppertree Press, LLC.

 

1269 First Street, Suite 7 – Sarasota,

 

Florida 34236 – USA. 313 pp.

 

ISBN 978-1-936051-52-6. Cover price $19.95

 

This is the 4th updated edition (the first appeared 1969 at Harper & Row Publishers, New York with 269 pp.), and the foreword is written by Sylvia A. Earle. There is a prologue of the birth and growth of the Mote Marine Laboratory, which Eugenie found­ed in 1955; today a giant national centre for shark and marine mammal research recognized world-wide. In the first chapter Eugenie Clark describes vividly how she was invited in 1954 by the Vanderbilts to Florida to “Start a place where people can learn more about the sea” and how a few month later she opened the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory (later changed to Mote). And tells how she caught her first shark on a hook and the dissection of a 500-pound shark for the first time and soon after how she started to keep and study live sharks at the Laboratory. We also learn about her family, because Eugenie’s mother was Japanese; written in a very lively way. In the second chapter she tells about her research on the reefs and recording their inhabitants and how each type of fish requires a slightly different approach (which I can only confirm with my freshwater research around the globe). We learn about the abdominal pores in sharks and the use of an experimental pressure tank she used to simulate deep water in the study of the function of the abdominal pores. And how she started to use MS-222, the effective way to anesthetize sharks (which actually I helped to develop for Sandoz in Switzerland). In “The Mystery of Serranus” Eugenie writes beautifully about the sex change-over in some fishes and her first encounter with Jacques Cousteau in Miami. Blennies and their Mazes is part of chapter 5, a great account of their amazing behaviour and biology, in which she is, for me, one of the foremost marine researchers. This account is followed by “sharks that ring bells”, and we read how smart sharks are in their ability to learn some simple tasks. In chapter 7 she gives very interesting insights of shark hazards around the world and one in particular, in which a boy was attacked off Longboat Key, Sarasota, in 1958, where a shark had attacked his leg in shallow waters at least three times. Eugenie was able later, with the boy’s amputated leg in hand, to investigate the tooth-marks and found out which species had attacked the boy. The chapters called “Scientists and students” and a nice account of a “Mesoplodon” follows. And I loved the account of her dives in Florida’s fresh waters and Silver Springs (which is lively for me because I did as well while studying ichthyology near her lab…) and her findings of a skull in Warm Mineral Springs with its brain intact dated at 7140-7580 years old. In chapter 11 she talks about “More Educated Sharks” an extremely interesting behaviour study. We read about the terrible loss of her mother, and then how she managed to travel all over the world with her four children (just like my mother did with us four – amazing for me the parallels between this fantastic woman and my mother…). I love her account of the Trichonotus nikii with “eyelashes” and the Red Sea garden eels. In the 14th chapter Eugenie writes about the imperial ichthyologist and that the learning curve of a young nurse shark is practically identical to that of white mice. And that she “hand-carried” this trained nurse shark on a Pan American flight as a present for Prince Akihito in Japan, who had invited her. (Which reminds me of “hand-carrying” freshwater sawfish from Cairns, Australia, to the Berlin Aquarium in Germany with Lufthansa). We read about mantas giving birth above water, how the Lab has grown and how her fishy adventure continues at the age of nearly 88 today. Genie’s (as her friends call her) door at the Mote Lab is always open to everyone, just as I keep her book open at all times as it is a joy to read over and over again. It is written so simply, for everyone to understand, and vividly and is a very beautiful true story, which everyone should read. And specially those who want to know about the incredible biology of fishes, the most speciose vertebrates on Earth.

 

Thank you Genie and keep up the great work…

Heiko Bleher

Questo post è disponibile anche in: German

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