BENEATH THE SURFACE
of a sailing marine biologist
A watery world full of rainbow-coloured animals and
bizarre-shaped formations with waving fingers reaching towards the surface.
Occasionally, a large creature glides by or a strange head appears from a
coral cavern. Bubbles tinkle up to a silvery ceiling above. Every diver
remembers the first time he or she plunged beneath the surface; just as
everyone remembers their fascination when they first peered into a rock pool
as a child.
The author, Michael King, is a marine biologist,
diver, beachcomber and sailor but not necessarily in that order. In
Beneath the Surface he tells exciting stories of sailing and
adventure on tropical islands and provides fascinating information about
sea-life and ocean systems.
The sea supports more plants than the land and
possibly the most abundant of all the Earth’s larger animals. The world’s
fastest animal and highest mountain are found in the sea. Excluding
micro-organisms, the total number of species in the world has been estimated
at about 8.7 million, give or take a million or so, and about a quarter of
these live in the oceans. However, it is estimated that over 90% of species
in the ocean are yet to be discovered and described.
Beneath the Surface
is a book that answers many questions.
What is the largest fish in the sea?
Why do sea currents circulate clockwise in one hemisphere and
anticlockwise in the other?
Which sea creature is used for the production of Royal Tyrian
What causes “phosphorescence” in the sea?
Why should you never order shark-fin soup?
What is ciguatera fish poisoning?
What is the Pacific Ring of Fire and what is the Pacific
Which marine animals can “feed” from sunlight?
Why do many marine species change sex?
Which plant with a marine connection has the largest of all
And perhaps most
topically and of much concern –
Why is seafood becoming more and more expensive?
On a less technical level, the author warns of the
risks of sleeping in a motorbike sidecar and using a spear gun to catch
mahi-mahi. He describes the worst seafood meal he has ever had, sailing
through floating rocks and making an illegal stop on a small South Pacific
island – an event that nearly caused a war. In Samoa, he describes working
with David Attenborough to film a most unlikely creature.
Dr King is a well-known specialist in fisheries development and
management and has worked in many countries around the world from the
Persian Gulf to Polynesia. He is a past lecturer at the University of the
South Pacific in Fiji and an Associate Director at the Australian Maritime
In Store Price: $29.95
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Ebook version -
Number of pages: 262
illustrations by Dr Michael King.
Cover: Clive Dalkins
The book contains 94 detailed
Dr. Michael King
Date Published: 2015
holds a PhD in Marine Biology and is a
specialist in fisheries development. He has been a university lecturer for many
years, an Associate Director of the Australian Maritime College and a fisheries
consultant in many countries from the Persian Gulf to Polynesia.
He continues to
spend much time working on fisheries development in various developing countries
and the Pacific Islands in particular.
He is the
author of several books on marine species including the successful and widely
used textbook Fisheries Biology, Assessment and Management, published as a second
edition in 2007 by Wiley/Blackwell in Oxford, UK (the book is widely used in UK
and US universities and has been translated into foreign languages).
But his real
love is in popularising marine biology and ocean science. He has a current entry
with professional details on
READ A SAMPLE:
Imagine you’re in a world full of rainbow-coloured animals and
bizarre-shaped formations with waving fingers that reach up towards you.
Occasionally, a large creature glides by or a strange head appears from a coral
cavern. Bubbles tinkle to a silver ceiling above. Who wouldn’t want to spend a
lifetime in a world like that?
I am a
SCUBA diver, marine biologist, beachcomber and sailor but not necessarily in
that order. When I was young all I wanted to do was dive, swim, surf, and later
sail the world. But when the system caught up with me and I found the need to
earn a living, I chose to study science and marine biology. And, because most
available jobs for marine biologists were in fisheries science, that’s where I
job was as a fisheries biologist with a government agency to work on a prawn
fishery. I was provided with a four-wheel drive vehicle, a large boat on a
trailer, and assistants who became close friends. I spent my days and nights at
sea on fishing boats and towed a small net in estuaries on the wilder parts of
the coast. I couldn’t believe that I was paid to do these things – to go to sea,
to go SCUBA diving, and to camp alongside estuaries in the bush. Later I worked
on fisheries around the world and I was paid to live and work in some of the
more interesting and exotic places on earth.
Once, at a
conference after I had presented some research results on trapping deepwater
shrimps in the South Pacific, I was surprised that most of the questions asked
were not about science but about working at sea, setting shrimp traps from a
yacht, and about some of the tropical islands where the shrimps were caught. I
found that scientists are interested in details unrelated to science. And
elsewhere I have found that many people are interested in science as well as
sailing and adventure.
main purpose is to entertain and inform. The descriptions of sailing and working
in exotic locations are, I hope, entertaining, but I had three other reasons for
writing this book. One is that all of us need to know more about nature and
appreciate that we are not the only species on this planet. I think that knowing
this makes us better people and citizens of the world. The second reason is that
life is more interesting if you understand how Nature works – knowing why a
sunset appears red doesn’t detract from its beauty, it enhances it. The third
reason is that the seas and sea-life are under threat. In the same way that
excessive hunting on land has threatened many terrestrial species, excessive
fishing in the sea has reduced the populations of many marine species to
dangerously low levels. In the years to come, seafood is likely to become a
luxury food item that is beyond the reach of the millions that depend on it for
have been interested enough to ask me about the sea and the creatures that live
therein. And their interest is justified. Without trivialising the sea’s
importance with mere facts, the sea supports more plants than the land and
possibly the most abundant of all the earth’s larger animals. The world’s
fastest animal and highest mountain are found in the sea. The questions asked
have ranged from the amusing to the intuitive. Once, after sailing across an
ocean, someone asked me if I had anchored each night. I suppose the equivalent
question in marine biology is – how much deeper would the sea be if it wasn’t
for all the sponges? But most of the questions were good ones. What is the
largest fish in the sea? Why are certain fish poisonous only at some times of
the year? Are sea squirts and corals plants or animals? Why is the sea salty?
What are spring tides? And perhaps most topically – why is seafood becoming so
expensive? I have tried to recall the most asked questions and I hope that this
book answers many of them.
A few years
ago I wrote a textbook that is used by professionals and poor-suffering marine
science students who have to wade through all the technical details. But this
present book is meant to be fun – it was certainly fun to write. In it I write
without recourse to jargon about the things that people want to know.
descriptions of sailing and South Pacific islands are a little self-indulgent
but they also serve to string together the descriptions of marine life and
phenomena encountered along the way. These are the sorts of things that any
coast watcher, shore wanderer, sea traveller or, indeed, any inquisitive person
would find of interest. I hope that you enjoy it.
this book to two old shipmates – Bryan Frankham and Geoff Hall.
The realisation hit me like a breaking wave. On one particular
night while I was on a very old and slow yacht that glided across a moonlit
ocean with low seas drifting by like scrolls of silver.
Like a man
and a woman who had been friends for a long time before recognising that the
friendship had moved on to something else, I realised that I was in love with
the sea. Perhaps it was the magic of the night – who wouldn’t love a sea like
that? I had always been passionate about the sea, mainly because it could
support a boat, but I knew almost nothing about what went on beneath the
earth began in the sea and each of us starts life in our own personal ocean
within our mother’s womb; perhaps these are the reasons that the sea draws so
many of us back to her. But in spite of the sea’s allure and its role in the
evolution of life on earth, I knew very little about the mysterious forces that
moved it and the creatures that lived within it. On the particular night that
this realisation came to me, in the middle of the Atlantic
Ocean, invisible forces were pushing a powerful current beneath the
yacht and countless millions of the most abundant of all living things were
scattered on the surface of the sea all around me.
daylight hours on the yacht the helm was taken by anyone not involved in doing
anything important such as reading a book or trying to make a new and inspiring
meal out of fish, rice and canned beans (the yacht had no freezer). But during
the night we had a roster of three-hour watches – one from 9 pm to midnight, the
second from midnight to 3 am and the third from 3 am to 6 am. Of course, the
least favourite watch was the middle one. People didn’t mind staying up late
chatting in the wheelhouse or even getting up early to see the new day arrive
but were not that keen to get out of a comfy bunk in the middle of the night.
It fell to
the current watch-keeper to rouse the next person on watch from his bunk. The
sleeping crew member would often be lying on his back mumbling through lusty
dreams of mouth-watering food when he was rudely awakened. Shaking the sleeper
usually worked but there were less pleasant ways. If a hand draped over the bunk
was immersed in a bucket of water, for example, the sleeper would suddenly jump
up with an overly-full bladder and a firm belief that the boat was sinking. He
would stagger gibbering up on deck before taking in that he had a three-hour
stretch on the helm before him.
the frequency of the midnight watch for each crew member only one person was on
deck for each of the three night watches, which were rotated. So every three
days I had the dreaded midnight watch and the best way to tackle something you
don’t like but have to do, is to grow to like it. And grow to like it I did.
tropical Atlantic, the yacht steered herself
pretty well in the gentle trade winds. All the watch-keeper had to do was to
check the compass course and, now and then, make a small adjustment on the
wheel. And of course, look around the empty horizon and sometimes scoot down
below to the galley to make a cup of coffee. Out on the dark deck, with all the
others down below and asleep, there was the seductive solace of solitude. The
sails were always full and steady in the following trade winds and there were no
noises except for the tremulous tinkling of the sea against the hull. With no
land for a thousand miles and stars from horizon to horizon, I felt as if I was
the only person on earth. But the stars weren’t the only source of light. I was
mesmerised by a wake of glittering lights that stretched back behind the yacht
for hundreds of metres on the surface of the sea. Closer to the hull of the
yacht I saw the ghostly shapes of larger animals, often dolphins, clearly bathed
in small points of light.
Some of the
lights were from jellyfish-like animals called comb jellies, about one
centimetre long, but most were from much smaller creatures. Beachcombers may be
familiar with comb jellies as their small and fragile bodies are often swept
ashore, sometimes in considerable numbers. They are usually given uninspiring
names such as sea-gooseberries or sea-walnuts – names that may describe their
appearance in death but sell short their beauty in life. They move their
transparent bodies by the beating of eight rows of comb-like paddles. Small
lights flicker along the rows so that, even when still, they look like a train
flashing by with lighted windows. Their non-stinging tentacles sweep the water
for smaller food that appeared as pinpricks of light.
pinpricks of light were caused by particular types of plankton – small plants
and animals that drift in the surface layers of the sea. The plankton gave out
light in response to being disturbed by the passage of larger creatures and the
yacht itself. And to fill in the hours of my watch, I collected them in a
bucket. Many of the plankton were too small to be seen clearly with the naked
eye but each time I flicked my finger in the bucket a shower of sparks rippled
out from the disturbance. From that time when I sat on the dark deck peering
into a bucket full of stars, I was hooked and resolved to learn more about
creatures, both large and small, that lived in the sea. So, I made a decision to
study to become a marine biologist when I was 21 years of age on a yacht in the
middle of the Atlantic.