Thursday, October 06, 2005

"...So far, we have been discussing our ignorance of the natural history of sharks. In many instances, we are not sure what they do, but when it comes to the question of why they do certain things, we are almost completely in the dark. We do not know why sharks do anything except that they breathe and eat and reproduce, for obvious reasons.
We know almost nothing about the longevity of sharks, except that our earlier guesses were wrong. They seem to live for a long time and grow very slowly.
The white shark, so often implicated in attacks on people, remains one of the least-known large animals in the world. We have no idea where it breeds, whether it is common or rare, how big it is at birth, how big it has to be before it is sexually mature, or why it has the nasty habit of biting people so that they die."

-Richard Ellis, "The Book of Sharks"

"The Book of Sharks" is the only gift I remember receiving the christmas of my 9th year. I'm sure I received other gifts, it's just that "The Book of Sharks" rendered them all instantly invisible. Published in 1975, 320 pages, it had been sitting in bookstores for 5 years before my mother could locate and purchase a used copy. It's full of bewildered, shoulder shrugging statements like the ones above. The idea that sharks are basically unknowable, that shark researchers are really half scientist-half philosopher, struck some kind of chord in me thats never stopped ringing. It's also full of photographs, paintings by the author, and incredible first hand accounts. The chapters in the book are like rooms that I've visited a thousand times.
Holding the book in my hands now, I'm amazed at how well the binding has held up. The dustjacket is long since gone, and the "hardcover" is as flexible as taffy, but the binding is solid, the pages secure. Given the 25 years of bumbling affection it's received from me, thats nothing short of miraculous.