Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Story of my Sharks



This book was not written because I wanted to write a book but because there was a story which had to be told: how a community of sharks had accepted me as a companion among them and then were finned for the shark fin soup market. To add insult to injury, their story was blocked by the media.


Isolated in Polynesia I tried to get to know the local blackfin reef sharks as animals and individuals. They proved to be so intriguing that I became increasingly involved with them. Much of the book is about what it was like to meet and get to know these animals, and the sometimes strange and amazing things that happened. After three years when I got Internet connection, I found that no one had ever done such a thing, and that most people thought that sharks were vicious.


The book goes on to describe my scientific findings, how the late Professor Arthur A. Myrberg Jr. and I discussed possible cognition evident in their behaviour. He included certain observations as some of the first evidence of cognition in sharks, in his talk at the International Symposium on Cognition at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, in 2003.


Just at that time, a company from Singapore established itself in the archipelagos of Polynesia, and began finning the sharks.


After the presentation on cognition, the BBC came to film my work for a documentary for Shark Week. I saw this as the one and only great chance to get out the story of the finned, intelligent sharks, and went all out to make it a success.


Some of my cases of wild animal rehabilitation, and information on cognition in different species, is incorporated into the story, to put the behaviour of the sharks in a wider framework.


The book ends when the sharks are protected in 2006.


Being an artist, I was able to do the illustrations myself.


It it expected to be priced at about 16 dollars US, and will be available through the usual channels including Amazon.com.


Here is an excerpt:


(I had been observing the sharks in the ocean in ten meters of water for over an hour, repeatedly diving down to the bottom for a better look. Normally I swam with them in the lagoon, but needed to find out whether and how often they left it. This was one visit outside the reef from my study area.)


“Again I was about to leave when I saw another large female in the distance. I dove down to look, using all my force to swim after her along the bottom, the remoras flittering over me as if it delighted them. I thought it was Madonna, but also thought it was possible that I was hallucinating. I was forced back to the surface, which seemed terribly high above.


"It was many minutes before I was able again to dive down. I watched closely, gasping at the surface, for the form of the great dark shark to return. When she did, I dove again, and this time was able to approach close enough to her to see the dark spot she had above her left pectoral fin. At the same moment, she became aware of me. As I rose back up to the surface, she came, zooming vertically after me, then spiralling with me as I flew towards the light. Rushing together upwards through this vast blue space, as if through the sky, we gazed eye to eye, locked together in the gesture of a moment. Then I broke through the surface, and she dove straight down into the blue and disappeared.


"Far, far below, more sharks were coming, and suddenly three large tuna crossed in mid water. After a few more dives to get a good look at the arriving sharks, I decided to get out of the water before I drowned. By then the remoras had attached themselves to me, and appeared to have gone to sleep. When I scattered the last crumbs of food for them, they woke up and excitedly fed, chasing bits around me until one of them entangled in my hair. I freed it with difficulty, climbed aboard, and rinsed the rest of the crumbs into the sea. The pretty fish would have no trouble finding a shark. I put away my gear, took my paddle once again, and set off for the island, far off and shining like an emerald in a blue abyss of sea and sky.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Commentary on my Book


This was from one of the reviewers who went over some of the book for me:

"I can only say that I read your work with no real expectation of anything. I anticipated that we would share certain basic attitudes and a general affinity for the wilderness, but beyond that we come from such different backgrounds and follow such different paths that your book could have been anything.

In truth, I wondered how many descriptions of reef fish I could take before I lost interest.

My response is purely to what I encountered.
And I am accustomed to reading all manner of material, from convoluted scientific theses to political rhetoric, and high blown visionary ramblings. That much of it is written by people I am very fond of, matters little.

You have a rare talent. It is, I suspect, an artist's eye applied to writing: the acuteness of detail; the consciousness of context and proportion. Each word is a brush stroke consciously applied. Most people use words like confetti; sprinkle enough of them in a general area and something like the impression intended is created. I do so myself frequently, when I'm being careless. Neither the impression being conveyed or the meaning of the words is understood clearly.
I seldom meet people who understand them with precision and are not bores.


Your clarity of intent is stunning, and beautiful.

As a wordsmith, I recognise and acknowledge rare mastery.

As a traveller who has picked up and cast aside the best of world literature in a thousand hostelries on half a dozen continents and countless islands, I recognise a book I would share with people I considered friends. That's all it is.

And 3 chapters into a subject I am not especially interested in, I am waiting with a low, gnawing hunger for more.


That alone tells me I have found something special.
I have been lured to the doorstep of a Tolkein-esque world and primed, ready to meet an array of inhabitants I have barely imagined yet know I will come to love.

Any compliment in that is duly deserved."