Rebecca's Reviews > Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher's Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything

Eye of the Shoal by Helen Scales
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There are 30,000 species of fish, making them “by far the most abundant and also the most diverse of the vertebrates.” Ninety-six percent are teleosts, the most recent branch to split off the evolutionary tree, characterized by full backbones and stiff tails. This book tells you everything you could ever want to know about fish: their use of colorful markings as camouflage; their reliance on bioluminescence, electricity and/or venom; what they eat; how they breathe; what extinct/fossil fish tell us about what fish used to be like; and so on. Evidence has emerged that fish can feel pain and exhibit signs of intelligence like learning and cooperative predation. They also have fantastic names, like Picasso Triggerfish and Sarcastic Fringeheads.

Unfortunately, at times (especially in Chapter 2) the book seems like nothing more than a list of facts: ‘here’s an interesting fish,’ ‘here’s another interesting fish,’ etc. Scales, an English marine biologist, inserts occasional snippets of autobiographical material about her travels and dives, but these feel out of place and insufficient. The same goes for the brief introductions to other figures from the history of fish research, like Robert Guppy (for whom guppies are indeed named) and Eugenie Clark, a Japanese-American shark and pufferfish researcher. However, I enjoyed the one- or two-page retellings of myths about fish interspersed with the scientific chapters, including the earliest version of the Cinderella story from ninth-century China.

I finished reading Scales’s Spirals in Time earlier this year, and was a bit disappointed with this new book by comparison. Her book on shells is better suited to a general reader and more successfully conveys the delightful strangeness of sea life while incorporating information on its cultural relevance and relationship with humans. At a time when oceans are in crisis, I expected the author to be much more outspoken about the dangers of pollution and overfishing. Her passion for fish is undeniable, but readers should have a considerable preexisting interest in marine life before deciding to join her for this exhaustive survey.
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Reading Progress

July 5, 2018 – Started Reading
July 5, 2018 – Shelved
July 5, 2018 – Shelved as: nature
July 5, 2018 – Shelved as: science
July 15, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Cheri (new)

Cheri Very nice review, Rebecca, this sounds somewhat disappointing, and a little too "dry."


Rebecca Cheri wrote: "Very nice review, Rebecca, this sounds somewhat disappointing, and a little too "dry.""

Maybe if you're a real fish enthusiast you wouldn't find it dry.


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