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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 worldallowing 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.
|Publisher:||Princeton University Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Sensuous SeasTales of a Marine Biologist
By Eugene H. Kaplan
Princeton University PressCopyright © 2006 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDEADLY 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.
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.
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Table of Contents
Preface: What Is a Marine Biologist? vii
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
Illustration Sources 264
What People are Saying About This
Kaplan actually does the things that many others will ultimately have left on their 'to do' lists. He chases octopuses with his students, dives to the edge of the abyss in a research submarine, and eats things most travelers would never consider. He is part Indiana Jones, part Richard Feynman, and part Woody Allen.
Paul Billeter, College of Southern Maryland
Highly entertaining. This book really is a celebration of biodiversity.
John Kricher, Wheaton College
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is a collection of vignettes from the teaching and research career of Kaplan. Kaplan uses "headline" stories to bring the reader, and students, into the biology/ecology of marine systems and details the natural history. You walk away with an awe of marine organisms as well as a nice brush up and exercise of basic zoology. His epilogue connects with the importance of hands on experience in teaching. Very enjoyable read. Recommended for all interested in the natural history of animals and for teachers.