g-na's Reviews > The Log from the Sea of Cortez

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck
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's review
Apr 21, 2012

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bookshelves: biology-zoology, memoirs-and-biographies
Read from May 08 to 16, 2012

The Log from the Sea of Cortez is John Steinbeck's account of the collecting trip originally published as The Sea of Cortez by Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts. Ricketts apparently wrote the scientific portions of the paper while Steinbeck supplied the narrative.

Steinbeck starts off speaking of "us" and "we" without ever mentioning whom he is speaking of. Ricketts was supposed to have been on the cruise but I don't recall him being mentioned (by name) in this book at all. I will assume the first person plural refers to both men.

Having been to the Sea of Cortez many times I did enjoy reading this and comparing the 1940 Sea to the one I first visited 50 years later. It certainly has changed; for instance, Cabo San Lucas is no longer basically just a cannery and associated workers, an area with no lights on at night. Another huge difference was the way wildlife was treated. In addition to collecting thousands of (mostly invertebrate) specimens, the team seemed to have no compunction about killing whatever large animals they could get their hands on. They speak of harpooning mantas, killing turtles--several species of charismatic megafauna that people today pay good money to see in the wild. Luckily times have changed, at least in that regard.

Steinbeck does write about a Japanese shrimping vessel that scrapes the bottom of the Sea, scooping up everything in its path. He describes the destruction it causes, and the "appalling" waste it generates as tons of dead or dying fish and other animals are thrown overboard in order to catch some shrimp. The sad thing is, we've know about this sort of wasteful bycatch and destructive trawling for at least 70 years now, yet it still continues unabated.

One unexpected thing I found in here was Steinbeck's sense of humour. he works in funny--and sometimes bizarre--jokes, such as when referring to the Sea-Cow, the boat crews' nickname for the outboard skiff motor which almost never worked.

The 50 page appendix included here is somewhat of a biography of Ed Ricketts, allowing you to learn a little of his life and work.

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