Lolly's Library's Reviews > Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks

Demon Fish by Juliet Eilperin
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's review
May 30, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: nonfiction, amazon-vine
Read from May 29 to June 06, 2011 — I own a copy

Sharks are not the best ambassadors for their own survival. The original sea monsters of yore, they are not cute and cuddly, warm and fuzzy. And while they may be photogenic, it's not in an “Aww” kind of way. It's more akin to an “Aaah!" So while other animals imperiled by man's actions, such as the playful otter and friendly dolphin, the majestic whale and the placid turtle, endear themselves to humans and thus find themselves saved from utter destruction, it wasn't until recently that anyone started giving a damn about the horrible, deadly, sinister, man-eating shark and the fact that we've been killing them off indiscriminately since we discovered their existence a few hundred years ago. Many cultures, both today and in the past, might say the only good shark is a dead shark. Well, as some individuals and countries are coming to find out, that statement is the biggest piece of dumb-ass logic anyone has ever thought up.

We've so impacted the shark's environment, with our industries, our pollution, our fishing, that not only have several species of shark declined in population by anywhere from 90 to 99%, those sharks being caught today are smaller than their counterparts of even just a hundred years ago. Sharks do not rebound quickly; though some species give birth to large litters, many species take years to mature and only reproduce a limited number of times in their life--most of the time the litters they produce are small, with only one or two pups per birth. While we've begun to--finally--set aside protected waters, those areas cover only a fraction of the shark's territory and even then, some of the protections contain loopholes which still allow sharks to be fished. The truth is, we still know very little about these creatures, who've managed to stick around this planet for nearly 425 million years. That's 425 million years . These creatures, who've evolved into some of the most perfectly, if occasionally oddly, designed animals on the planet, have been around since before the dinosaurs and have even contributed to our own evolution (the bones of our inner ear, the way we swallow and talk due to muscles and cranial nerves which are the same as those which move a shark's gills), are still decried as man-eating monsters who deserve no pity. Yet these monsters are being systematically wiped out by us, humans, a predator more devastating, more mercenary, more cruel than any shark on this planet.

Juliet Eilperin's book is a well-researched investigation of the different ways in which we've poached, killed, decimated and otherwise pillaged the world's oceans of this apex predator, and the repercussions various governments and peoples have reaped as a result, in the form of depleted fish stocks, depressed economies, not to mention lost tribal traditions and vanishing cultural heritages. From the travails of Mark “the Shark” Quaratiano, who runs a fishing charter in Miami and complains that instead of sticking his hand in the water and pulling out a shark from the infested waters, he now has to work for several hours before he's able to catch a single shark for his macho-men, testosterone-boosting weenie clients (aww, poor baby), to the shark callers of Papua New Guinea, who are losing their faith-based tradition, which has sustained their native culture through colonization and Christian missionary proselytizing, due to the simple fact that the sharks of their islands have disappeared due to overfishing. Not the overfishing of prey fish, although that's played a part; no, overfishing of the sharks themselves. Which brings us to the most horrendous activity responsible for the decline of the shark: Finning. The practice of hauling a shark on board, slicing the pectoral and dorsal fins off the animal and tossing it, often while still alive, back in the water, to drown as it sinks to the ocean floor. Millions of sharks each year are killed in this manner, to supply one industry, shark's fin soup. And yet, as an ingredient, shark's fin adds nothing to the soup; it's a thin, noodle-like ribbon of cartilage which adds no flavor, only prestige to a dish which was once served only to a select few but now, with the rise of the Chinese middle class, is consumed at any and every occasion where such prestige is desired. Eilperin follows the trail of this world-wide trade, from the poor fishermen who are simply following the money even as they realize how the sharks have disappeared from their fishing grounds, to the secretive auction houses, where fins are sorted and sold with a minimum of words and a maximum of dollars and yen exchanged. The author details her travels around the world, to the different hotspots of shark fishing as well as shark protection and education, in a vivid, yet rational voice; her book is a clear-eyed dissection of our legacy towards the elasmobranch family (that's the shark, skate and ray family for those who are not selachophiles [shark lovers, a word I just made up]), backed up by sound scientific data and in-depth research. Part travelogue, part scientific journal, this book is a lively and fascinating look at how various cultures relate to this ocean predator, often in a surprising and (despite how I might've made it sound) sometimes positive way.

I've been a shark lover for as long as I can remember. It's been a love tempered by an equal measure of fear; because I know some sharks like shallow, murky water, growing up in Florida, I never went past my ankles (if I could help it) whenever we spent a day at the beach. I'd love to go cage diving in South Africa and see a great white up close; even though I know it creates a Pavlovian response, I'd still like to visit a shark feeding operation in Bimini, wear a mesh suit and sit in the middle of a feeding frenzy. Yet, when I was younger, I was scared of even swimming in the pool by myself, because of the fear of what might come up from the bottom of the deep end. (Yes, I realize I was swimming in a chlorinated pool and that there was no creature, of any sort, waiting in the deep end; psychological fears are hard to overcome, no matter what kind of logic you throw at them.) I still enjoy Jaws, even though I scream at the TV screen in frustration for the erroneous stereotype it puts forth; I've watched The Discovery Channel's annual Shark Week festival since it's inception, even though, as the years went on, I got bored with many of the programs as they didn't teach me anything I didn't already know. So, as you might've guessed, this book appealed to me at a basic level. However, if you've never given sharks a second thought; if you've seen Jaws and shuddered but never really desired to know any more about those creatures than what was portrayed in the movie; even if you think sharks are evil incarnate and deserve to be killed, I urge each and every one of you to pick up this book and read it. Sharks may not be endearing to the masses, but upon completing Demon Fish I dare you not to feel some sympathy and distress over how we've treated a creature who, quite frankly, is just trying to live on this planet, the same as us. The story of sharks is a story about us, in the long run, and how we choose to interact with the creatures who share our space.
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Reading Progress

05/30/2011 page 45
02/10/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-8)

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message 8: by graveyardgremlin (formerly faeriemyst) (last edited Jun 09, 2011 03:34AM) (new) - added it

graveyardgremlin (formerly faeriemyst) God, that finning is terrible. Some humans are so evil. >{ Great, informative review. Love your word, selachophile. Good one. :) Aah, but you forget, the shark in Jaws is an anomaly and truly diabolical. :P Anyone who thinks a real shark acts that way, well, they're an idiot.

I hope you don't mind that I intend to take full credit for spotting this find. ;D Glad you enjoyed it, or at least the subject content, if not the actual, horrible practices talked about within the book. :/

Thought this was interesting since they always talk about shark attacks like they're commonplace or something. Of course, this just lists fatalities, but the ratio has to be about the same.
Ooh, I like this one:
Here are more comparisons:

Oh, and you have 'loosing' instead of 'losing.' As always, your faithful editor. ;P

Lolly's Library I know. I've had the misfortune to see video of it in action; talk about nauseating. 8* Thanks for both compliments. :) Oh, I know the shark in Jaws is an anomaly, but, sadly, there are people out there who still believe that sharks, especially great whites, act that way. The world is full of idiots. :(

Take credit! I bow down to you, oh great and wise faerie! If it hadn't been for your keen eyes, I'd would've missed out on this book completely. Believe me, your intervention is much appreciated. :D Yeah, in some ways the book was depressing; I knew some of the figures on how much the shark population had been depleted, but I was still blown away by the numbers presented. However, it wasn't all bad and the book showed that there are some people and countries out there who are finally waking up to the fact that we need sharks, all of them, to keep our oceans healthy.

Those are interesting links. And it's true. You're more likely to be injured by your toaster or slip on a bar of soap in your shower than get attacked by a shark. But, sadly, sharks are more terrifying to the general public than the Oster toaster sitting on your counter. :|

graveyardgremlin (formerly faeriemyst) Oh god, I never, ever, ever want to see that. 8* You're welcome. :) Well, I'm sure I'm an idiot about something too. :/

Will do! Wait, I already did. ;D At least there are some people and that number will hopefully keep growing.

Since I've never even been in the ocean, I really don't think a shark is going to come walking up to me and bite my head off. Like hello! What a picture that makes. LOL People are probably more afraid because of how sharks look, especially with those teeth. 8O

Lolly's Library I didn't want to see it either; sadly, I didn't manage to close my eyes in time. :( Oh, I know I'm an idiot about some things, I just try to hide it. ;P

You gotta figure we'll eventually reach a tipping point, before it's too late, where enough people will have woken up and said, "Enough!" That's the hope anyway.

That's quite a mental picture. "Hello, I'm a shark and I'd like to bite your head off." Chomp! Reminds me of the land-shark bit from the original Saturday Night Live sketches. ;D Oh, I'm sure it's the teeth that induce fear, every time. But the sharks can't help it; they were built that way!

graveyardgremlin (formerly faeriemyst) Too bad. :( We all try to hide it. Okay, most people. I think. Now I don't know. Some do. :P

I keep hoping for that and in other things as well.

LOL Gee, calm down, I wasn't attacking sharks, just pointing out how people view them, generally speaking. ;D

Lolly's Library I don't know, some people seem to revel in being an idiot. :P

Me too.

I was calm. I wasn't attacking you or what you said, I was just being enthusiastic. Stupid digital communication; nothing ever comes across correctly. >{

graveyardgremlin (formerly faeriemyst) True.

Don't worry, I know. I was just having some fun, which didn't come across. LOL Perhaps we should add 'she said tongue-in-cheek,' or 'calmly, but exuberantly, she spouted,' etc. :D

Lolly's Library Yeah, I think some sort of disclaimer will be required in certain circumstances. That's why I hate this type of communication sometimes; the nuances don't come through. *said with exasperation* ;D

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