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Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist Hardcover – July 23, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
The feeding and mating habits of some of the ocean's strangest creatures are the subject of these 31 entertaining essays by Hofstra ecologist Kaplan. He introduces each chapter with a story dramatizing the factual information—such as the tale of his painful encounter with the tentacles of a Portuguese man o' war—but the inducement is unnecessary, as the biology is fascinating in its own right. His man o' war, for example, is a jellyfish that has "[n]o brain, no blood, no heart, no anus," yet is able to paralyze its prey with "poison arrows." The other creatures he describes are equally bizarre. They include barnacles that live in the bodies of crabs, eating all the hosts' internal organs except those necessary to keep the crabs alive; sinister fish in the Amazon basin that can enter a human body through the genitals and tear up the person's innards; sea anemones and clownfish that live in a symbiotic relationship in which the fish feed the anemones and are in return protected by the anemones' tentacles. Kaplan's lively essays, accompanied by 150 exquisite line drawings, are a wonderful introduction to the mysteries of the ocean. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
"Eugene H. Kaplan has been teaching marine biology for half a century, and shares his experience of bringing the subject alive. . . . Each of the 31 chapters opens with either one of Kaplan's own memoirs or a scenario from his imagination, before exploring the marine biology behind the tale. . . . [T]he entertainment seldom flags. Kaplan's book conveys the breadth and excitement of an education in marine biology. . . . [T]here is no stronger recommendation that I could make."--Jon Copley, Nature
"Eugene H. Kaplan has a well-developed sense of humor, delving amusingly yet seriously into such topics as the sex life of squids . . . and the future of sea horses."--Martin Levin, Toronto Globe and Mail
"With vivid writing, a sense of humor and truly fascinating creatures to work with, Kaplan creates a feel for the teeming sea and rouses a sense of wonder in his readers. Line drawings in each chapter illustrate the creatures and their life cycles. This is a book for people with even a small bit of curiosity about the hidden world around them."--Lynn Harnett, Portsmouth Herald
"From this collection of short stories, a theme emerges. Kaplan guides readers to appreciate the remarkably diverse web of life that has evolved and continues to evolve in an ever-changing ocean environment. . . . Sensuous Seas informs and challenges, one fascinating tale after another."--Fred Bortz, Arkansas Democrat Gazette
"Eugene Kaplan's thirty-one chapters deliver concise and beautifully illustrated accounts of life-form specialization, symbiotic survival techniques, and unique mating rituals. . . . Kaplan gives us the immense diversity of marine life, distinctively expressed in form, coloration, habitat (water, sand, rock, coral), and life patterns (aggressive or passive, independent or parasitic), opening up a universe."--Peter Skinner, ForeWord
"This book spells out in evocative yet scientifically accurate ways, the mysteries, the drama, the variations, yes even the day-to-day lives of organisms in the sea. . . . [It presents] a new world of possibilities about how to hook your students into studying the fascinating stories that organisms in the sea have to offer as well as some of the questions for which there are as yet no answers."--American Biology Teacher
"All combined, Kaplan's writing appeals to the story lover, the scientist and anyone who just wants to know how crabs get it on."--Seattle Magazine
"Sensuous Seas contains a wealth of stimulating and digestible information. This book is also beautifully produced and will be an attractive asset to any marine library."--Tim Ecott, Aquatic Mammals
"Kaplan offers readers an irresistibly irreverent voyage through the world of sea creatures. . . . This one-of-a-kind memoir allows the reader to experience the incredible complexity of sea life."--Sarah Jane Abbott,Off the Shelf
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Moreover, the general tone taken towards nature and science is one of freewheeling fun rather than a desire for respect or understanding. While the author may feel that attempts to understand the elegant and wonderful mechanisms underlying the sea are stuffy and boring, there is something to be said for having students go out into the field and make observations, design experiments, and really LOOK at nature, rather than have them attempt to grab fish, gobble down octopus tentacles, and generally tromp around merely creating lists of species.
Further, while Kaplan may have been trying to come across and amusing by sexing things up a bit (there is some truth in that this approach can grab students), it often quickly descends into the kind of almost unconscious sexism that is so often criticized in the sciences. I would NOT give this book to a young girl or woman aspiring to be a marine biologist, as it is certain to give her the wrong kind of message about the kinds of people in the field and the treatment she is to expect.
There are a variety of excellent popular books out there about the ocean, marine biologists (Log of the Sea of Cortez, Nature's Machines, etc.), and the crazy sex lives of animals (Dr. Tatiana's Sex Guide to All Creation). This is not one of them. I would recommend the aforementioned books, or any of the other excellent books or DVDs (The Blue Planet) about the underwater world and science and give this a pass.
A small, appetizing, cleaner fish waves to big, passing predators "advertising its services." The savage behemoth approaches, assumes an unthreatening stance and is cleaned of parasites by the smaller creature.
The Portuguese man `o war fish lives safe from its enemies among the poisonous tentacles of its namesake gasbag jellyfish ("no brain, no blood, no heart, no anus"). But the fish, which must dart out to feed, has never evolved an immunity to the man `o war's paralyzing venom other than its own agility.
Clownfish (remember Nemo?) mate for life and live among the poisonous tentacles of the sea anemone, paying for their safe refuge by feeding the anemone. "If the female dies, the male becomes a female and a new male joins her."
Sex change is pretty common in this eat and be eaten world. Even more efficient are the hermaphrodites, like the sea hares, who have both male and female equipment and mate in group circles.
A biologist with a half-century's experience, a professor and the author of nine books, Kaplan introduces each animal in this collection of essays on the mating and feeding habits of sea creatures with an anecdotal encounter. Many involve personal experience, often with his students, who quickly learn that the most flamboyantly colorful are often the most dangerous, like the red and white fringed fireworm which has hundreds of pretty poison barbs.
But few of these, not even the blue-ringed octopus whose bite kills in minutes, compare in horror with a small Amazonian catfish who swims up a human's urinary tract, extends its spines for secure placement and begins rapidly tearing at and consuming its victim's innards.
However, for pure unadulterated cruelty as a way of life nothing (at least in this book) matches a tiny, free-swimming barnacle larvae that takes up residence in a crab, turns it into a female if it happens to be male, consumes all flesh and organs not required to keep the crab alive, and then fills in the newly vacated space with its own tissue. The barnacle then extrudes sexual organs, which attract a couple of males who also take up residence in the crab. Thereafter, "endless hordes of larvae are released periodically" from the hapless host.
Kaplan aims - successfully - to entertain, amuse, shock and amaze readers while teaching. Describing the perilous lives of shrimp, fish, snails, worms and more, he shows how evolution provides the most efficient means for surviving long enough to reproduce. These involve some pretty ingenious designs.
Like the lettuce sea slug that basks in the sun on its blade of turtle grass. It consumes algae and conveys the green chloroplasts to the lacy frills on its back, then gathers energy from the sun through photosynthesis like a plant! But, to take advantage of this free energy it must expose itself to the sun and any passing predator. It survives by tasting so bad that predators spit it out unharmed.
Kaplan does not mention what does eat it though something must since the world is not overrun with lettuce sea slugs. He also doesn't say how many offspring the hermaphrodite sea slugs produce, but most of the sea creatures discussed here produce thousands upon thousands of progeny and many are barely holding their own even though it takes only two to replace the parents.
Some creatures - seahorses and shrimp to name only two - are endangered by human predation, but even without humans the sea is a tough environment with numerous hungry predators on the prowl at every stage of life.
With vivid writing, a sense of humor and truly fascinating creatures to work with, Kaplan creates a feel for the teeming sea and rouses a sense of wonder in his readers. Line drawings in each chapter illustrate the creatures and their life cycles. This is a book for anyone with even a small bit of curiosity about the hidden world around them.
-- Portsmouth Herald