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Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Ocean's Oddest Creatures Hardcover – October 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


 “If you read only one book about the ocean, read this one. Learn and laugh about the astonishing creatures of the sea and discover the connections that all living things share, and realize that trouble for ocean life is trouble for human life. A thoroughly entertaining, sobering, and inspiring must-read for all who care about the future of the sea, and the future of humankind.”

(Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence)

“The ocean is endlessly fascinating and mysterious. With her easy and companionable writing, Ellen Prager conveys a deeply delightful introduction to all kinds of ocean creatures. A great book for beginners and one even experts can learn from and enjoy—this is possibly the best general book ever written on creatures of the deep.”--Carl Safina, author of The View From Lazy Point

(Carl Safina, author of The View From Lazy Point)

“The oceans could have no better storyteller than Ellen Prager. Each page leaves you wondering what extraordinary creature or behavior would appear next or how even those that seem the most ordinary have mysteries beyond our imagination. Beyond inspiring wonder, Prager tells why it all matters, from the tiniest to the largest creature, our health, our lives, the economy and our future are interconnected in astonishing ways.”--US Congressman Brian Baird, former chairman of the Energy and Environment subcommittee

(US Congressman Brian Baird, chairman of the Energy and Environment subcommittee)

“In my years of diving and reporting below the surface of the sea, Ellen Prager has been the most effective and humorous storyteller about life in the ocean. Here she brings us the strangely well-endowed conch, slime-touting hagfish, transgender parrotfish, and an abundance of slime and sex within the seas. By combining science with humor, she allows more people to learn about the ocean and understand that the lives of animals are not only crucial for our food and fun, but also for our economy and health. You really should read this book, which not only teaches us about the ocean, but also makes it entertaining and gives us ideas about how to save the sea and the wonderful life in it."--Bob Woodruff, ABC News correspondent

(Bob Woodruff, ABC News correspondent)

“Prager provides ocean enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds—from Key West to Kalamazoo—with easy to understand and entertaining descriptions of what lies beneath and why all of us should care about marine life. Her work will serve as serious inspiration to all, from the average Joe to the next generation of oceanographers, scientists, and explorers.”--US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida

(US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida)

“Ellen Prager has produced a fascinating and delightful read about the amazing diversity of life under the sea. She describes a panoply of strange and wondrous creatures in an accessible and non-technical fashion that leaves you shaking your head in wonder. Prager’s book will make you want to head to the nearest shore and jump right in!”

(Lisa Speer, Director of International Oceans Program, Natural Resources Defense Council)

"Packed with excellent conversation fodder for your next date, this book details the strange lives and mating rituals of sea creatures. Choose your anecdotes wisely, though: That romantic seafood dinner may become less appetizing once you explain that lobsters use urine during foreplay, or that male octopi copulate with a 'specialized baby-maker arm.'"—Sierra Magazine

(Sierra Magazine)

"The ocean may look lifeless from the deck of a ship, but under the water live many creatures large and small. In the past, writers have claimed there was an abundance of life in the seas, but marine scientist Prager reports that overfishing, pollution, and global warming have already taken a great toll on marine life. She hopes there is still time to save ocean creatures, for their sake and ours. The problem is getting people to care, and to do so they must be aware of the diversity and value of marine life. In this introduction to ocean life, Prager briefly describes an array of creatures, starting with microscopic diatoms, copepods, and plankton and thematically progressing through rare, dangerous, and slow-developing invertebrates, fishes, birds, and marine mammals. Aiming to entertain as well as teach, she often focuses on oddities and strange behaviors. Her detailed observations will be most appreciated by natural-history readers."


"A tastefully scandalous tour of defensive secretions and extreme sexual flexibility backs up a plea for ocean conservation."
(Science News)

"Prager plumbs the depths for strange or marvelous organisms, first wowing us with their weirdness and then reeling us in with their worth—be it culinary, medicinal, biotechnological, or recreational. Her exuberant writing reveals a personal enthrallment with her protagonists. She’s the perfect guide for an undersea exploration."

(Audubon Magazine)

About the Author

Ellen Prager, a marine scientist, was formerly the chief scientist at the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys. She is the author of several books, including Chasing Science at Sea, which is also published by the University of Chicago Press.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; First Printing edition (October 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780226678726
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226678726
  • ASIN: 0226678725
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #970,978 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

As a marine scientist, Ellen Prager has journeyed to exotic locales to study the sea, lived in an undersea laboratory for more than a week to do research on coral reefs and broadcast into schools, and now spends much of her time bringing earth and ocean science to the public. She is known nationally for her ability to make science understandable, relevant, and especially entertaining for the layperson. She is a frequently requested speaker at a wide variety of events, from Capitol Hill to aquariums and classrooms, and has appeared as an expert on The Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN's Larry King, Discovery Channel and more.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By oldetimeybookworm on April 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the greatest oceanographers of our generation, Sylvia Earle said," if you only read one book about the ocean, read this one." Being that I found Earle's last book "The World is Blue," amazing, I had to check out this one. Now if you are looking for an overall view of oceanic life, that's what your biology textbooks are for. But if you are looking for an engaging, insightful and humorous read on ocean life, this is your book. Prager's book is written in a way to capture the attention span and keep you hooked. You will discover all sorts of crazy wonderful secrets about a number of oceanic life forms. She is particularly fascinated by invertabrates. I never thought creatures like sea slugs, pteropods, and sea sponges had such fascinating habits and sex lives. Overall, Prager is able to take you there with her language. Her rhetoric is detailed, funny, and enthusiastic. Her conservation message is strong too. But this is one of the few conservation-themed books I've read that uses humor to raise awareness. I certainly hope that Prager's book sells many copies and helps to ensure a more positive future for all her odd ocean friends.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sceptique500 on June 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a "great book for beginners", indeed deserving five stars for substance and overall structure. I enjoyed reading it cover-to-cover in a day - well, except for the last to chapters, that is.

The book drops one star with a clunk in its last two rather naïve chapters. Quirky, dumbed down language and the tiresome because repetitive structure of each chapter lead to further star loss. A good editor would have been of help.

Between the disjoined "Believe or not" factoid and the dedicated biology doorstopper on ocean biology there is a vast - and so far rather barren - sea. Much credit goes to the author for having navigated these uncharted tidal waters and come up with a book that is well organized: it provides an overview of the various levels of animal life in the oceans and comes up with fascinating examples of the diversity to be found. Sex, drugs, and sea slime provide a useful if loose organizing criterion. No matter how much one reads on, there is always more to enjoy. I enjoyed this book. It is tribute to the author's skill than what could be just a collection of factoids has been woven into a pleasing narrative that sustains the reader's interest.

The last two chapters deal with the role of humankind. The first with the dangers; the second charts "hope". These two chapters are unsatisfactory.

The first contains a less than perfunctory section on human impact. Her generalizing qualitative approach allows the reader the illusion that things are not "that bad". They are. Real problems are airbrushed: "Climate change" becomes "global change" - though it is called its proper name elsewhere in the book. Surprisingly, sea acidification is not even mentioned here - arguably the most important effect of increasing CO2 levels.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Harnett VINE VOICE on November 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover
New England lobsters spray each other with urine to get in the mood for love. Well, procreation, anyway. And they are not the weirdest. There's the tiny male fish that attaches itself to the much larger female and becomes a parasitic sperm factory for the rest of its life, all its other organs being absorbed by its mate. Sea Stars can divide themselves in half and regenerate two new halves. Or they can go the more conventional route and spray sperm and eggs into the water to mix.

If you like stories about undersea creatures like these, then Prager's book is for you. Prager, former chief scientist at the Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys, keeps her tone light but informative as she describes the life cycles of animals (and some plants) from plankton to giant squid to the inhabitants of deep-sea thermal vents.

Each chapter ends with a "Why They Matter" section, exploring their importance to ocean ecology, our economy, medicine, the food chain, and research. And the last couple of chapters are devoted to ecology; the bad news, the good news, and what we can do.

But for sheer wonder you can't beat the bizarreness of nature. Some sea cucumbers, which look like their name, can engulf themselves in slime and eject their inner organs when threatened by a predator. Once it's escaped the sea cucumber regenerates its organs in three to five weeks. Sea cucumbers also breathe through their rears. A small fish called the pearlfish follows the chemical signature of carbon dioxide to swim up its anus and take daytime shelter there, snacking on the unfortunate animal's innards. Some sea cucumbers will eject those innards along with the fish; one species has taken the easy way out and evolved anal teeth.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Tom Darden on May 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book. What a fascinating, fun read. Dr. Prager brings to life some of the oddest sea creatures with humor and science.I especially fell in love with the exotic ,colorful little sea slugs. After each chapter I dashed to the computer to see and learn more about the creatures that Dr. Prager writes about.The mateing habits of some of these underwater characters are truely fascinating.I bought several copies of this book to give to friends and family.
buzzy darden
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