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Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist

Overview

Learning marine biology from a textbook is one thing. But take readers to the bottom of the sea in a submarine to discover living fossils or to coral reefs to observe a day in the life of an octopus, and the sea and its splendors come into focus, in brilliant colors and with immediacy.

In Sensuous Seas, Eugene Kaplan offers readers an irresistibly irreverent voyage to the world of sea creatures, with a look at their habitats, their beauty and, yes, even their sex lives. A marine...

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Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist

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Overview

Learning marine biology from a textbook is one thing. But take readers to the bottom of the sea in a submarine to discover living fossils or to coral reefs to observe a day in the life of an octopus, and the sea and its splendors come into focus, in brilliant colors and with immediacy.

In Sensuous Seas, Eugene Kaplan offers readers an irresistibly irreverent voyage to the world of sea creatures, with a look at their habitats, their beauty and, yes, even their sex lives. A marine biologist who has built fish farms in Africa and established a marine laboratory in Jamaica, Kaplan takes us to oceans across the world to experience the lives of their inhabitants, from the horribly grotesque to the exquisitely beautiful. In chapters with titles such as "Fiddler on the Root" (reproductive rituals of fiddler crabs) and "Size Does Count" (why barnacles have the largest penis, comparatively, in the animal kingdom), Kaplan ventures inside coral reefs to study mating parrotfish; dives 740 feet in a submarine to find living fossils; explains what results from swallowing a piece of living octopus tentacle; and describes a shark attack on a friend.

The book is a sensuous blend of sparkling prose and 150 beautiful illustrations that clarify the science. Each chapter opens with an exciting personal anecdote that leads into the scientific exploration of a distinct inhabitant of the sea world--allowing the reader to experience firsthand the incredible complexity of sea life.

A one-of-a-kind memoir that unfolds in remarkable reaches of ocean few of us can ever visit for ourselves, Sensuous Seas brings the underwater world back to living room and classroom alike. Readers will be surprised at how much marine biology they have learned while being amused.

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Editorial Reviews

Toronto Globe & Mail
Eugene H. Kaplan has a well-developed sense of humor, delving amusingly yet seriously into such topics as the sex life of squids . . . and the future of sea horses.
— Martin Levin
Aquatic Mammals
Sensuous Seas contains a wealth of stimulating and digestible information. This book is also beautifully produced and will be an attractive asset to any marine library.
— Tim Ecott
Toronto Globe and Mail

Eugene H. Kaplan has a well-developed sense of humor, delving amusingly yet seriously into such topics as the sex life of squids . . . and the future of sea horses.
— Martin Levin
Arkansas Democrat Gazette

From this collection of short stories, a theme emerges. Kaplan guides readers to appreciate the remarkably diverse web of life that has evolved and continues to evolve in an ever-changing ocean environment. . . . Sensuous Seas informs and challenges, one fascinating tale after another.
— Fred Bortz
Nature - Jon Copley
Eugene H. Kaplan has been teaching marine biology for half a century, and shares his experience of bringing the subject alive. . . . Each of the 31 chapters opens with either one of Kaplan's own memoirs or a scenario from his imagination, before exploring the marine biology behind the tale. . . . [T]he entertainment seldom flags. Kaplan's book conveys the breadth and excitement of an education in marine biology. . . . [T]here is no stronger recommendation that I could make.
Toronto Globe and Mail - Martin Levin
Eugene H. Kaplan has a well-developed sense of humor, delving amusingly yet seriously into such topics as the sex life of squids . . . and the future of sea horses.
Portsmouth Herald - Lynn Harnett
With vivid writing, a sense of humor and truly fascinating creatures to work with, Kaplan creates a feel for the teeming sea and rouses a sense of wonder in his readers. Line drawings in each chapter illustrate the creatures and their life cycles. This is a book for people with even a small bit of curiosity about the hidden world around them.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - Fred Bortz
From this collection of short stories, a theme emerges. Kaplan guides readers to appreciate the remarkably diverse web of life that has evolved and continues to evolve in an ever-changing ocean environment. . . . Sensuous Seas informs and challenges, one fascinating tale after another.
ForeWord - Peter Skinner
Eugene Kaplan's thirty-one chapters deliver concise and beautifully illustrated accounts of life-form specialization, symbiotic survival techniques, and unique mating rituals. . . . Kaplan gives us the immense diversity of marine life, distinctively expressed in form, coloration, habitat (water, sand, rock, coral), and life patterns (aggressive or passive, independent or parasitic), opening up a universe.
Aquatic Mammals - Tim Ecott
Sensuous Seas contains a wealth of stimulating and digestible information. This book is also beautifully produced and will be an attractive asset to any marine library.
From the Publisher

"Eugene H. Kaplan has been teaching marine biology for half a century, and shares his experience of bringing the subject alive. . . . Each of the 31 chapters opens with either one of Kaplan's own memoirs or a scenario from his imagination, before exploring the marine biology behind the tale. . . . [T]he entertainment seldom flags. Kaplan's book conveys the breadth and excitement of an education in marine biology. . . . [T]here is no stronger recommendation that I could make."--Jon Copley, Nature

"Eugene H. Kaplan has a well-developed sense of humor, delving amusingly yet seriously into such topics as the sex life of squids . . . and the future of sea horses."--Martin Levin, Toronto Globe and Mail

"With vivid writing, a sense of humor and truly fascinating creatures to work with, Kaplan creates a feel for the teeming sea and rouses a sense of wonder in his readers. Line drawings in each chapter illustrate the creatures and their life cycles. This is a book for people with even a small bit of curiosity about the hidden world around them."--Lynn Harnett, Portsmouth Herald

"From this collection of short stories, a theme emerges. Kaplan guides readers to appreciate the remarkably diverse web of life that has evolved and continues to evolve in an ever-changing ocean environment. . . . Sensuous Seas informs and challenges, one fascinating tale after another."--Fred Bortz, Arkansas Democrat Gazette

"Eugene Kaplan's thirty-one chapters deliver concise and beautifully illustrated accounts of life-form specialization, symbiotic survival techniques, and unique mating rituals. . . . Kaplan gives us the immense diversity of marine life, distinctively expressed in form, coloration, habitat (water, sand, rock, coral), and life patterns (aggressive or passive, independent or parasitic), opening up a universe."--Peter Skinner, ForeWord

"This book spells out in evocative yet scientifically accurate ways, the mysteries, the drama, the variations, yes even the day-to-day lives of organisms in the sea. . . . [It presents] a new world of possibilities about how to hook your students into studying the fascinating stories that organisms in the sea have to offer as well as some of the questions for which there are as yet no answers."--American Biology Teacher

"All combined, Kaplan's writing appeals to the story lover, the scientist and anyone who just wants to know how crabs get it on."--Seattle Magazine

"Sensuous Seas contains a wealth of stimulating and digestible information. This book is also beautifully produced and will be an attractive asset to any marine library."--Tim Ecott, Aquatic Mammals

Nature
Eugene H. Kaplan has been teaching marine biology for half a century, and shares his experience of bringing the subject alive. . . . Each of the 31 chapters opens with either one of Kaplan's own memoirs or a scenario from his imagination, before exploring the marine biology behind the tale. . . . [T]he entertainment seldom flags. Kaplan's book conveys the breadth and excitement of an education in marine biology. . . . [T]here is no stronger recommendation that I could make.
— Jon Copley
Portsmouth Herald
With vivid writing, a sense of humor and truly fascinating creatures to work with, Kaplan creates a feel for the teeming sea and rouses a sense of wonder in his readers. Line drawings in each chapter illustrate the creatures and their life cycles. This is a book for people with even a small bit of curiosity about the hidden world around them.
— Lynn Harnett
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
From this collection of short stories, a theme emerges. Kaplan guides readers to appreciate the remarkably diverse web of life that has evolved and continues to evolve in an ever-changing ocean environment. . . . Sensuous Seas informs and challenges, one fascinating tale after another.
— Fred Bortz
ForeWord
Eugene Kaplan's thirty-one chapters deliver concise and beautifully illustrated accounts of life-form specialization, symbiotic survival techniques, and unique mating rituals. . . . Kaplan gives us the immense diversity of marine life, distinctively expressed in form, coloration, habitat (water, sand, rock, coral), and life patterns (aggressive or passive, independent or parasitic), opening up a universe.
— Peter Skinner
American Biology Teacher
This book spells out in evocative yet scientifically accurate ways, the mysteries, the drama, the variations, yes even the day-to-day lives of organisms in the sea. . . . [It presents] a new world of possibilities about how to hook your students into studying the fascinating stories that organisms in the sea have to offer as well as some of the questions for which there are as yet no answers.
Seattle Magazine
All combined, Kaplan's writing appeals to the story lover, the scientist and anyone who just wants to know how crabs get it on.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
From this collection of short stories, a theme emerges. Kaplan guides readers to appreciate the remarkably diverse web of life that has evolved and continues to evolve in an ever-changing ocean environment. . . . Sensuous Seas informs and challenges, one fascinating tale after another.
— Fred Bortz
Publishers Weekly
The feeding and mating habits of some of the ocean's strangest creatures are the subject of these 31 entertaining essays by Hofstra ecologist Kaplan. He introduces each chapter with a story dramatizing the factual information-such as the tale of his painful encounter with the tentacles of a Portuguese man o' war-but the inducement is unnecessary, as the biology is fascinating in its own right. His man o' war, for example, is a jellyfish that has "[n]o brain, no blood, no heart, no anus," yet is able to paralyze its prey with "poison arrows." The other creatures he describes are equally bizarre. They include barnacles that live in the bodies of crabs, eating all the hosts' internal organs except those necessary to keep the crabs alive; sinister fish in the Amazon basin that can enter a human body through the genitals and tear up the person's innards; sea anemones and clownfish that live in a symbiotic relationship in which the fish feed the anemones and are in return protected by the anemones' tentacles. Kaplan's lively essays, accompanied by 150 exquisite line drawings, are a wonderful introduction to the mysteries of the ocean. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
By emphasizing the mating behavior and sexual habits of marine animals in his biology courses at Hofstra University, marine biologist Kaplan (Problem Solving in Biology) captured the attention and interest of his undergraduate students. Forty years of experience in the classroom and on field trips to a Caribbean marine station convinced him that other biological concepts, such as life stages and coral-reef ecology, could be absorbed once the students were introduced to the many unusual sexual functions and habits of, e.g., fiddler crabs, sea urchins, and tilapia. Chapter headings such as "Size Does Count" and "Sea Pussy" are examples of the author's slightly sophomoric style, and he provides additional shock value through descriptions of the attack mechanisms of poisonous marine animals. The 150 line illustrations, which include detailed textual material, are highly informative. Trevor Norton's recent Underwater To Get Out of the Rain, an account of his own experiences as a marine biologist, is less formal and more anecdotal. Kaplan's book has an index and glossary, which Norton's omits, but no bibliography or suggestions for further reading, which Norton's provides. Both authors convey their love of the marine world to the reader. For high school and undergraduate collections.-Judith B. Barnett, Pell Marine Science Lib., Univ. of Rhode Island, Kingston Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691125602
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/3/2006
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Eugene H. Kaplan is Axinn Distinguished Professor of Conservation and Ecology at Hofstra University. A recipient of the Herman Melville award for writing on marine subjects, he is the author of nine books, including "Problem Solving in Biology" and two Peterson Field Guides, one on coral reefs of the Caribbean and the other on seashores of the Southeastern United States and the Caribbean.

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Read an Excerpt

Sensuous Seas

Tales of a Marine Biologist
By Eugene H. Kaplan

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2006 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-691-12560-0


Chapter One

DEADLY DARTS

Brainless, boneless, bloodless ... blobs ... successfully oceangoing for 650 million years. -LILY WHITEMAN

Iridescent purplish balloons skittered across the sea in a fresh breeze, destined to wash up in windrows on a sandy beach like the remnants of a child's birthday party. A little boy wandered along. Curious, he bent over to pick up a stranded "balloon." The "string" touched his leg. An excruciating pain emanated from the point of contact. The child staggered back and fell among the balloons. He writhed in agony, the stings causing a spiderweb of red welts like whiplashes on his skin. A stranger happened along and carried the now semiconscious child to the nearest first aid station, where his body was slathered with meat tenderizer. The protein-destroying enzyme in the tenderizer destroyed the toxin. The child survived after hospitalization.

Shaken after the horrific scene played out in front of me, I walked over to the shore. Among the footprints of the saved and the savior were a few of the balloons. Recognizing them for what they were, I looked around for something to put one in. I needed a photo of the creature and recalled the dictum, "the best way to takean underwater photo is not to take it underwater." Back at my motel room was a water-filled lunch box-sized aquarium. A camera with macro lens stood poised on a tripod, pointed at a potential aquatic subject.

The beach was pristine-no washed-up plastic cups, no Coke bottles. How could I carry the specimen back to the "photography studio" I had set up in my room? Then I thought of the dive mask on my forehead. I scooped up a little water in the mask, slid it under a balloon, rushed back to the room, and plopped the specimen into the tiny tank. Its tentacles moved up and down. The balloon even writhed around, so that a sequence of photos would prove that this purple sphere was capable of movement.

About two hours later, after the photo session and lunch, I returned to the shore for more photo ops. I put on my mask. Suddenly my face was on fire! The pain was so intense that I gasped and ripped off the mask. My eyes were swollen nearly shut as I rushed back to the room. We had no meat tenderizer, but my wife applied a topical anesthetic.

After half an hour the haze of pain lifted and I was able to think. "What happened?" I asked myself. I realized that there were some tentacles left in the mask, and despite drying for hours in the sun, they still retained their toxicity.

* * *

The innocent-looking balloons were in reality biological bladders filled with air secreted by dangling colonies of tiny elongate animals. The villain of the piece is the Portuguese man o' war, Physalia physalia, among the most fearsome of jellyfishes. Few biologists know the origin of the name "Portuguese man o' war." It was derived from a powerful four-masted battleship, bristling with at least thirty-eight cannons and characterized by two large, voluptuous lateen sails and a substantial stern (like Miss Nubile). This warship made it possible for the Portuguese to dominate the seas during the sixteenth century.

The ship's biological namesake is also formidable. This bizarre jellyfish is an animal of such simplicity that its functions are divided among three body types called polyps: one for defense, one for feeding, and one for reproduction. These quarter-inch-long, interconnected, semi-independent polyps dangle from the bottom of the balloon and combine their functions for the greater good. In other words, the phylum has not yet evolved a body that can perform all of the life functions. Like the Borg, each function is performed by a specific part of the collective body that is connected with the others. Food is eaten by a gastrozoid, reproduction is performed by a gonozoid, and protection is provided by a dactylozoid. In the case of the Portuguese man o' war, the defensive dactylozoids evolved to become the aggressive members of the triumvirate. They extend filamentous fishing tentacles twenty feet behind the floating colony, ensnaring passing fishes and zooplankton in an almost invisible web of toxic threads.

How has this phylum, the Cnidaria* so primitive as to lack organs and virtually just a jelly-filled sack, existed for 650 million years? No brain, no blood, no heart, no anus. Yet the phylum has survived fundamentally unchanged over the millenia, so it must have something going for it. That something is a poison arrow, the nematocyst. Each tentacle is covered with thousands of cells that are capable of discharging poisonous nematocysts in an explosion of toxicity. So tiny are these ancient weapons that in their coiled state they are scarcely larger than the nucleus of the cell. In typically huge numbers, the microscopic darts are capable of introducing considerable amounts of toxin into the superficial layer of the victim's skin. The toxin must be very powerful indeed if the small amount that penetrates the epidermis can cause humans to experience such intense pain and small fish such instantaneous paralysis. Visualize the hairs on your arm as poisonous weapons and you will have an idea of what an aquatic organism faces when it rubs against a tentacle.

The basic cnidarian life cycle consists of two independent reproductive forms, one sexual (the medusa) and the other asexual (the polyp). In one large group, including corals and sea anemones, the polyp incorporates the sexual phase and there is no medusa. When a medusa is present, this sexual floating stage is popularly known as the jellyfish. Scientists coined the term "medusa" because it reminded them of the snake-headed mythical monster who turned men into stone when they looked at her. The poisonous, snakelike tentacles of the medusa literally turn a small fish into stone-total paralysis, so that the death shudder is suppressed. A medusa produces either eggs or sperm and casts them into the sea. They fuse to become the asexual polyp. Many polyps clone to form fuzz-like colonies attached to hard objects on the bottom. These colonies then bud off juvenile jellyfish.

The Portuguese man o' war differs from the typical cnidarian, being neither medusa nor polyp. It is a floating colony of polyps suspended from a bladder of its own making. The downward-pointing polyps, en masse, manufacture the purple balloon, injecting special nitrogen-rich air into it. Although the balloon can contort itself, swimming is impossible and the colony goes where it is blown.

The illustration depicts a Portuguese man o' war sailing majestically along, wafted by the wind, a beautiful purple air-filled sphere trailing its fierce weapons behind-twenty-foot-long, nematocyst-laden, transparent, string-like fishing tentacles. It has captured a small fish. But the fish might escape, tearing off thread-like tentacles with one convulsive movement, partly disarming the colony. To prevent this, the Portuguese man o' war must paralyze the fish instantaneously. After the prey is captured, the tentacle shortens, carrying its paralyzed victim to the tiny gaping mouths of the feeding polyps.

Nature, ever experimental, has come up with a surprisingly benevolent aspect to the fierce Portuguese man o' war. It provides a haven for the man o' war fish Nomeus, which finds protection among the malevolent nematocyst-bearing tentacles. What physiological mechanism has the fish evolved to foster this intimate relationship? Apparently none, for if the jellyfish is removed from the water and its resident fish falls on the tentacles, the fish is immediately paralyzed. But its survival depends on its ability to swim among the tentacles. Only one explanation is possible. Nomeus must have evolved an exquisitely sensitive sensory mechanism that allows it to live in a virtual web of danger and avoid getting stung.

A. The Portuguese man o' war, Physalia physalia, is a 12-inch purple translucent bladder filled with nitrogen-rich air secreted by polyps dangling below. The colony has many 20-foot fishing tentacles. Some of these have retracted, pulling a paralyzed fish toward the rest of the colony suspended from the bladder, where hundreds of feeding polyps will digest the fish.

B. The man o' war fish, Nomeus gronovii, flourishes among the tentacles although vulnerable to their fatal sting. The fish maneuvers among the toxic tentacles and darts out to capture its planktonic food.

C. The Portuguese man o' war ship, with up to seventy-two cannons, was instrumental in maintaining the Portuguese navy's dominance of the seas in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It evolved from a merchant ship, the caravel (exemplified by Columbus's Nina), into the galleon depicted. Note the two voluptuous triangular lateen sails near the stern.

D. Types of tentacles. Those on right are male and female reproductive polyps, gonozoids. They "ripen" at different times, preventing self-fertilization. The central polyp, the dactylozoid, is a coiled, retractable fishing tentacle armed with fierce nematocysts in batteries. Three feeding polyps, gastrozoids, are to the left between two dactylozoids. When the dactylozoids pull the prey close to the colony, gastrozoids will extend and secrete enzymes to digest the prey.

E. A copepod paralyzed by venomous nematocysts from a tentacle (those with bulbs torn from the battery). Sticky, whip-like nematocysts stay attached to the tentacle to hold the prey until the coiled tentacle retracts and carries it to the colony. Nematocysts are in spherical batteries in this species. In other species they are distributed like hairs on your arm. Each nematocyst bursts from a single cell.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Sensuous Seas by Eugene H. Kaplan Copyright © 2006 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Preface: What Is a Marine Biologist? vii
Acknowledgments ix
Apologia xi
Prologue: The Perils of Teaching 1
Chapter 1. Deadly Darts 3
Chapter 2. The Great Jade Green Octopus Hunt 9
Chapter 3. Bedtime Stories 20
Chapter 4. Garden of Eden: The Death Apple and the Tree of Life 29
Chapter 5. A True Romance Story 36
Chapter 6. Elixir of Love 46
Chapter 7. Skinny South Sea Sausages 52
Chapter 8. The Only Male Reproductive Organ with a Name 59
Chapter 9. Living Lance 66
Chapter 10. Role Reversal 74
Chapter 11. Super Male 83
Chapter 12. Miracle Fish 89
Chapter 13. Fugu 99
Chapter 14. Bunnies of the Sea 107
Chapter 15. Passion for Purple 116
Chapter 16. Size Does Count 122
Chapter 17. Fiddler on the Root 131
Chapter 18. Beware the Duppy 138
Chapter 19. The Secret of an Improved Sex Life 145
Chapter 20. How to Court a Female 152
Chapter 21. The Anti-BLB Club 159
Chapter 22. Sea Pussy 166
Chapter 23. Debunking the Big Lie 176
Chapter 24. A Peek into the Anus of a Sea Cucumber 183
Chapter 25. The Yellow Submarine 190
Chapter 26. The Perils of Vanity 200
Chapter 27. Sexually Repressed Victorian Taxonomists 206
Chapter 28. Random Ramblings on Relationships 214
Chapter 29. Penile Bloodletting 222
Chapter 30. Death and Confusion 232
Chapter 31. Eyeball to Eyeball 242 Epilogue 253
Glossary 257
Illustration Sources 264
Index 265
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