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Ultimate Guides - Sharks and Rays: The Ultimate Guide to Underwater Predators - Leighton R. Taylor

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Genre: Animals / Author: Leighton R. Taylor / Publication Date: 1997 / Publisher: Collins

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      17.10.2012 02:36
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      Definitely worth a look, a must have for Shark lovers.

      I have no idea where or why I came across this book, I know I didn't buy it and I also know it has been in my bookcase for a few use, never looked at until recently. When we were babysitting my boyfriends nephew he was complaining about having to do homework on something from the sea.
      We told him to have a look at this book and before we knew it, the homework was done and I was reading the book myself!

      I was amazed by the amount of information in the book. It really has everything you could wish to know about sharks and rays. There are 288 pages in the book spread out over 8 chapters. There are photographs and diagrams throughout the book which make it colourful and interesting to look through.

      I'm not a shark expert, but I think I can safely say if it's not in this book, it's not worth knowing. It is jam packed with interesting and useful information. Here's a quick breakdown of the chapters:

      UNDERSTANDING SHARKS AND RAYS (chapter 1)
      Information on their habitat, myths and legends, what a shark and a ray is, their relatives and the dangers of viewing sharks.

      In this chapter there are some interesting references from history including shark biology by Aristotle in 350BC. The pictures are great as they are throughout the book and help to break up a lot of text.


      OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH SHARKS AND RAYS (chapter 2)
      Sharks and rays in history, shark fishing, the use of sharks and rays, decline in shark and ray populations, changing habitats, oceans under threat, should the fishing be reduced, myths and facts, changing attitudes, the nature of shark attacks, the reality of shark attack, living safely with sharks and rays, unveiling the mysteries of the oceans, sharks and rays behind glass, what's happening today and getting involved in shark conservation.

      This was the chapter that got me really interested in the book, it has a variety of stats, pictures and text. It covers areas which really interest me, such as the idiotic people who kill sharks for their fins alone to serve as delicacies such as shark fin soup. I'm far from an animal rights activist but I would not eat in a restaurant that served this.

      Also mentioned were the use of sharks for medical purposes, anything medical interests me but I found out some interesting facts such as:
      - Oils from the liver being used in pharmaceuticals being high in vitmin A and acting as anticoagulants
      - In the US, shark corneas are proving successful a transplants for human eyes.

      One thing I didn't like was the table they included to show that shark attacks are rare. To try and prove this point they have chosen selected causes of death in Hawaii in 1996 stating that out of 7206 deaths 2178 were from heart disease, 1713 from cancer, 58 from falls, 44 from homicide and none from shark attacks. Data like this, to me anyway, is ridiculous, I don't think it accurately shows the risk of death from a shark attack. What percentage of the population would be in a situation where they could be attacked by a shark? I don't know why but to me, it seems silly to compare shark attacks to unpreventable deaths due to disease. If the number of deaths from shark attacks was compared to diving deaths, parachute deaths, or boating deaths it would make more sense to me.
      What I do find more interesting is the table showing the number of attacks and how many of these proved fatal which was lower than I thought being 6 out of 50 attacks across the world.

      IN THE FIELD (chapter 3)
      Planning a field trip vacation, preparation, getting closer, expanding the knowledge, encounters with sharks and rays, protective equipment, underwater photography, underwater filming, learning to scuba dive, scuba - what you need to know, snorkelling - what you need to know, boating and fishing.

      This was another really interesting chapter with more scenic photographs. The chapter contained useful information for travellers in general as well as shark hunters. There is a section on preventing malaria, how to choose a reputable agent or tour operator and information on getting the correct equipment. The photography sections are also more general which is good. There's also a section I found quite funny on what to do if you encounter a shark or ray, starting with 'don't panic' followed by 'maintain eye contact'. I don't plan on being in a situation where I'll be encountering these creatures but if I was I think I'd struggle with these first two instructions.

      SHARKS (chapter 4)
      Identifying and classifying sharks, the evolution and radiation of sharks, the body form and function of sharks, the internal environment of sharks, vision, smell, taste and touch, balance, hearing, lateral line and the electrosense, the shark's lair, shark reproduction, shark behaviour, food and feeding, daily movements and migration

      This chapter includes some useful diagrams including the anatomy of a shark (very useful for the homework project). The chapter focuses mainly on the physical make up of the shark, it is informative and I did find the picture of the egg cases containing embryos quite fascinating.


      RAYS (chapter 5)
      Identifying and classifying rays, the evolution and radiation of rays, the anatomy and biology of rays, the habitat of the ray, life cycle and reproduction, survival and defense, movement and propulsion, behaviour and conservation, ,

      Again this chapter focuses mainly of the physical make up of the ray. I tried to avoid looking at these pictures as they gave me the creeps a bit. There's some real ugly slimy ones in this chapter. There's a section on treating ray stings but unfortunately no stats of the amount of stings and how many are fatal. I was shocked to read about the 200 volt shock given out by an electric ray though!

      SHARKS FIELD GUIDE (chapter 6)
      In this chapter there is a page for each breed of shark with information pictures and some field notes telling you where they can be found, their size, if they are dangerous, how rare they are and when the best time to see them is. There's around 70 different kinds of shark mentioned, I had absolutely no idea there were so many! I'd only heard of the nurse shark, tiger shark and hammerhead shark. Some of these don't even look like sharks, they can be brightly coloured and look like plants. Some of them are utterly revolting like the shark with my favourite name, the 'Tasselled Wobbegong'!


      RAYS FIELD GUIDE (chapter 7)
      As with the sharks field guide, the rays field guide chapter has a page for each ray with notes stating where they are found, their size, aggressiveness, what time of year you can find them and how common they are. Some of these are really nice colours, one has a leopard print pattern, the pictures are both fabulous and freaky of the rays.



      ENCOUNTERS WITH SHARKS AND RAYS (chapter 8)
      This chapter has a couple of pages on several popular locations to visit when looking for sharks and rays. For each location it tells you the best time of year to visit, the weather, water temperature, dive location and accommodation.
      In the middle of multiple exotic locations is the Isle of Man. I was actually considering a trip here but I'll be staying well clear of the water!


      The book ends with some further information resources such as book and magazine titles. A helpful list or organisations and their contact details an finally an index and glossary are included.

      Overall
      This book could prove to be really useful for anyone with an interest in travel, diving and sea life. For those that don't it's still an interesting and informative read.
      I'm glad I finally got around to opening this book. I was planning on flicking through and looking at the pictures but got distracted by little boxes of facts and ended up reading the whole this.

      For any kids this is a good book as it is educational as well as visually appealing.
      Full marks from me for a book I really enjoyed on a topic I had zero interest in.

      The R.R.P price for this book is £12.99, used copies can be bought from £3 including delivery online.

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      • More +
        16.01.2012 11:27
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        Could save your life - but probably won't.

        An unusual wedding present

        When I got married a lot of the guests at our wedding chose to totally ignore our wedding list but nobody went quite so off-piste as the guy who bought us 'Sharks and Rays; The Ultimate Guide to Underwater Predators' by Leighton R. Taylor. He was a trainee who worked for me at the time and he was Dutch - perhaps that had something to do with his rather alternative approach to present buying. However, nearly 14 years later I can still find my shark book long after many of our other presents are long broken, worn or lost.

        To put things a little bit more into context I had met my husband on a dive boat and we were going diving in East Africa for our honeymoon so the choice wasn't entirely random. Had he given such a book to two people who met playing bridge and planned a romantic trip to Rome, it would have been totally irrelevant.

        A fishy book

        Did you know that there are 350 different species of sharks and rays and only a handful are dangerous? No, I didn't either and I have to admit that no matter how many books I've read, when one's coming towards me underwater my heart rate speeds up. You will most likely find yourself trying to remember whether it's the leopard shark or the tiger shark that's likely to eat you but it's reassuring to know that most of the dangerous ones are unlikely to crop up accidentally and you'll probably have to go out of your way to look for trouble.

        If you don't know your tasselled wobbegong from your sawfish, then this is the book that may help you feel more calm next time you're diving and come across sharks and rays. Or more likely it could help you to show off to all around you next time you find yourself in your local Sea Life Centre. Its 288 pages will give you a good insight to the history, lifestyle and behaviour of these fabulous creatures.

        In just eight chapters, each written by different specialists, you can get a good grounding in these fascinating beasties. Chapter one covers 'Understanding Sharks and Rays' and tells of their long history, their adaptation to environment in different areas of the ocean. Some myths and legends about sharks are debunked before the author explains the characteristics of sharks and their cousins the rays.

        Chapter two introduces 'Our Relationship with Sharks and Rays' and tells of how mankind and his fishy enemies have interacted including fishing, the use of shark products, and the resulting decline in shark and ray numbers. The impact of our world and behaviour on the environment and how sharks have suffered or adapted is discussed along with issues around sustainability. This was published nearly 15 years ago when sustainable fishing was rather less of a hot topic than today. The balance of how many of them we kill versus how many of us they attack is startling. The statistics of shark attack are put into perspective with some data on causes of death in Hawaii in 1996 where 7206 people died, over 2000 from heart attacks, 40 from drowning and not one from shark attack (though admittedly a couple of non-fatal attacks did take place). Each year worldwide there are 50 shark attacks with 6 fatalities. Florida is the shark attack hotspot - that's probably something the Disney World people don't tell you in their adverts. This section also discusses the role of zoos and aquariums in shark conservation.

        Chapter three is called 'In the Field' (or rather maybe 'in the water' might be more accurate' and discusses how to plan for a dive encounter with sharks. This includes how to behave, what protective equipment to buy or hire and some issues around underwater photography and videography which are probably pretty out of date with the growth of digital technology.

        Chapter four is dedicated to sharks and describes how to identify and classify them. We also learn about the physiology of the shark and its advanced sensory systems. Chapter five does the same for rays and then we hit my favourite chapters, six and seven, which are the shark field guide and the ray field guide. Each page gives you a colour photograph and a description with key facts about where the shark or ray is found, how large it grows (remember everything looks bigger under water), whether it's dangerous and how likely you are to see it whilst diving. In addition to the main photograph there's usually a close up of particular features that are relevant to each fish. For your info, a tasselled wobbegong looks like a flat mossy bush and can be dangerous when provoked and is found in the Western Pacific whilst a saw fish looks like a shark with a hedge-cutter stuck on its nose. Those - if you hadn't guessed - are my non-expert description; the experts are rather more professional with theirs.

        If you've read all of the first seven chapters and want to go out and get face to snout with some sharks, chapter 8 lists the best places around the world to see them. Keep in mind that these most definitely aren't the ONLY places to find them but they are places where your chances are higher or where local dive operators are set up to specialise in shark encounters.

        It's a strange format hardback book - about 12 inches high and 6 inches wide and it's quite heavy. It's not the type of book you'll want to lug around in your suitcase. Every page is filled with text, photographs and captions in the style I'm more familiar with when using Dorling Kindersley's travel guides. Each page has the text in a newspaper style three-column layout with pictures scattered around amidst the text. I have to be honest that whilst the style works for me in travel guides, I find it a bit hard to follow for a nature book.

        If you want a guide to sharks and rays, this is a pretty good choice. If you don't want a book about sharks and rays, be sure to write on the bottom of your wedding list 'No books about sharks and rays' - that should do the trick!

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