‘The Extreme Life of the Sea’: what lies beneath
In their new book, “The Extreme Life of the Sea,” marine biology professor Stephen Palumbi and his writer son Anthony Palumbi vividly portray the mysterious and awe-inspiring creatures that populate the ocean’s depths.
The Washington Post
‘The Extreme Life of the Sea’
by Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi
Princeton University Press, 225 pp., $27.95
Stanford University marine biology professor Stephen R. Palumbi has a theory about humans’ relationship with the ocean: Unless we get a sense of what happens beneath the surface, we will never bother to protect it. Teaming up with his son Anthony, a professional writer, Palumbi has written a book that depicts some of the sea’s most bizarre and mesmerizing creatures.
Drawing on decades of scientific research as well as a knack for storytelling, the authors convey what happens at the ocean depths without sugarcoating it. They reconstruct a battle between a bull whale and a giant mother squid in which “40 tons of flesh and hot blood collides” with a squid “at 10 feet per second. ... She rolls with the blow, wrapping her arms around the attacker’s head and jaws. Hooks tear long gaping wounds in his skin, layering fresh damage on top of chalky white scars. He’s no stranger to this kind of fight.”
The book also answers basic questions that many readers may have about some of the marine world’s most charismatic residents. How exactly do sharks grow their razor-sharp teeth, at a rate of one new set every seven to 10 days? This “tiny miracle of cellular engineering,” the Palumbis explain, starts as an unformed lump of tissue that becomes defined by a network of fibers and then is filled in by a bone-like material and covered in a hard seal of enamel.
The authors work hard at making their subject matter accessible to readers. Indeed, occasionally this stands out as one of the book’s few shortcomings: The authors pepper the text with too many analogies. But that’s a small complaint, given what this book accomplishes. It doesn’t just shed light on some of the most mysterious workings of sea; it does so with vivid prose while also managing to convey scientists’ current understanding of how and why these phenomena operate. If that doesn’t make people more invested in preserving the ocean, it’s hard to know what will.