Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Dec 25th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Sharky Waters

ae_JulietEilperinAuthor Juliet Eilperin takes readers on a global journey into the hidden world of sharks
While interviewing commercial fishermen in New England, she heard the phrase that would become the title of her new book. “They referred to sharks as ‘demon fish,’” says Juliet Eilperin, speaking over the telephone from her office at The Washington Post, where she works as the national environmental reporter. “I thought it was an interesting commentary on how humans view sharks. It tapped into a human’s first reaction—although the book is trying to get beyond that first reaction.”

Eilperin’s book, “Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks,” does just that—it takes readers on a journey beyond their assumptions about this predator of the seas, circumnavigating the globe to illuminate humanity’s complex relationship with an animal that is at the same time both feared and revered.

 

Along the way, readers will meet shark callers in Papua New Guinea, observe shark fin traders in Hong Kong, travel to a pristine coral reef in the Line Islands and hear what it’s like to come face to face with a 3,000-pound whale shark. The book is filled with facts about the life history of sharks—as well as folklore, scientific data and a strong conservation plea.

Anyone interested in learning more about sharks, ocean ecosystems or humanity’s connection with nature won’t want to miss Eilperin’s appearance at Bookshop Santa Cruz at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 15. The author will read from “Demon Fish” as well as participate in a question and answer session and sign copies of the book.

Eilperin says that the thing that surprised her most during her research was how near sharks are to humans—both in physical proximity and in evolutionary relationship.

ae_fishy2“Physically, they are swimming right off the California coast,” Eilperin says. “In South Africa in the summertime, if you did an overflight you’d see sharks teeming in the water with swimmers.”

In addition, the idea that humans and sharks evolved from common ancestors—and that we share inner ear bones and jaw musculature to prove it—is a concept that changed her view of how both animals fit into the scheme of life.

Still, this didn’t make it any easier for Eilperin when she first slipped into water that was swarming with sharks.

“I was terrified the first time,” she recounts. “I was scared and the people around me were totally fine because they were researchers who did this all the time. It was a funny disconnect. I was so focused on watching the sharks to make sure they didn’t attack me, but when I got back on the boat and had time to reflect I realized they were more focused on the food than me. If they hadn’t had the bloody barracuda it would have been a different story, but I was definitely low on their priority list.”

Eilperin credits people’s fascination with sharks to the fact that they are such powerful, stealthy creatures. She describes their gliding, glowing bodies under the sea—and even when giving accounts of their predatory prowess she does so with a palpable sense of awe.

“One of the things I found most interesting is how human societies have vastly different views of what sharks are like,” she says, comparing South Pacific Island cultures that deify sharks with commercial fishing operators that demonize them. “All these constituents may have their livelihoods tied to sharks—whether through the fishing industry or ecotourism—yet they’ve developed different attitudes about them.”

Ironically, though many people fear sharks, humans have become their No. 1 threat. The book states that worldwide there are an average of five human deaths by shark attack per year, yet scientists estimate that up to 73,000 sharks are killed annually for the Asian delicacy shark’s fin soup. These sharks are caught, their fins are sliced off and the carcass is thrown back into the sea. “What’s so interesting is that it’s really the allure of eating something that can kill a human that drives demand, rather than taste,” says Eilperin, who tried shark’s fin soup while she was in Hong Kong. “I was struck by the fact that the noodles that come from shark fins are tasteless—it’s really the chicken and pork that add the flavor. The prestige factor provides it with culinary demand.”

Eilperin estimates that in addition to the finning industry, millions more sharks are caught annually as by-catch, when vessels put out bait for target fish, primarily tuna and swordfish, and accidentally capture sharks. Many of the commercial fishing operators she encountered—such as the New Englanders who gave her the name for the book—are hostile toward sharks because they view them as competitors for their target fish species.

“There is very little scientific evidence that sharks are consuming in large quantities the same kinds of fish (that fisheries are targeting),” Eilperin says, pointing out that because fisheries are dependent on a thriving ocean population with a number of different species up and down the food chain, removing one of the top predators can clearly have cascading effects and actually be detrimental to fisheries.

“Commercial fishing operators might want to see sharks as their allies rather than enemies,” she adds. Throughout the book, the message is clear: Sharks are integral in keeping ecosystems healthy and functioning. “They play a really important role in the ocean as one of the top predators,” says Eilperin. “There is little [doubt] they help maintain an ecosystem, by keeping middle predators in check and removing unhealthy organisms from the ocean.”

The question is irresistible: what is Eilperin’s favorite species of shark?

“The cookie cutter shark,” she answers, describing this pygmy shark’s bioluminescent body that’s broken up with a ring of dark pigment around its collar. When larger fish are swimming beneath the shark, they can’t see the luminescent part of its body against the light of the sky above. Instead, they see the dark band near the gills, which scientists believe they mistake for the silhouette of a smaller fish. Lured by the possibility of a meal, the larger fish swims near and then is ambushed by the cookie cutter shark—who surprise attacks by punching an eerily tidy hole, in the manner of a cookie cutter, into the flesh of the fooled fish.

“They also team up and cooperatively attack larger fish—it’s akin to being attacked by a group of angry wasps,” says Eilperin. “I think there’s something incredibly entrepreneurial that this much smaller shark attacks larger fish in the sea.”

 


Juliet Eilperin will read from “Demon Fish,” and participate in a Q&A and sign copies of the book at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 15 at at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. For more information, call 423-0900.

 

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Dancing In the Rain

District Attorney Bob Lee’s death in October stunned the Santa Cruz community, but he had battled cancer fiercely—and privately—for more than a decade. Now one of his closest friends reveals the remarkable inside story

 

Giving and Giving, Then Giving Some More

2014 is almost over. Wednesday, Dec. 17, the Jewish Festival of Light, Hanukkah, begins. We are in our last week of Sag and last two weeks of December. Sunday, Dec. 21 is winter Solstice, as the sun enters Capricorn (3:30 p.m. for the west coast). Soon after, the Capricorn new moon occurs (5:36 p.m. for the west coast)—the last new moon of 2014. Sunday morning Uranus in Aries (revolution, revelation) is stationary direct (retro since July 22). Uranus/Aries create things new and needed to anchor the new culture and civilization (Aquarius). We will see revolutionary change in 2015. Capricorn new moon, building-the-personality seed thought, is, “Let ambition rule and let the door to initiation and freedom stand wide (open).” Capricorn is a gate—where matter returns to spirit. But the gate is unseen until the Ajna Center (third eye), Diamond Light of Direction, opens. Winter solstice is the longest day of darkness of the year. The sun’s rays resting at the Tropic of Capricorn (southern hemisphere) symbolize the Christ (soul’s) light piercing the heart of the Earth, remaining there for three days, till Holy Night (midnight Thursday morning). Then the sun’s light begins to rise. It is the birth of the new light (holy child) for the world. A deep calm and stillness pervades the world.The entire planet is revivified, re-spiritualized. All hearts beating reflect this Light. And so throughout the Earth there’s a radiant “impress” (impressions, pictures) given to humanity of the World Mother and her Child. The star Sirius (love/direction) and the constellation Virgo the mother shines above. For gift giving, give to those in need. Give and give and then give some more. This creates the new template of giving and sharing for the new world.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Pinned Down

Actors shine in true-crime wrestling drama ‘Foxcatcher’
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Best Bites of 2014

A look back at the year in good taste

 

What downtown business is good for both one-stop shopping and last-minute gifts?

The Homeless Garden Project store. Because it is a community effort and has really useful and beautiful things, and allows you to connect with a lot of folks who are doing great work in Santa Cruz. Miriam Greenberg, Santa Cruz, UCSC Professor

 

Vino Tabi Winery

One of Santa Cruz’s most happening areas to go wine tasting is in the westside’s Swift Street Courtyard complex. Ever since a group of about a dozen wineries got together and formed Surf City Vintners (SCV), the place has been a hive of activity, and a wine-tasting mecca. Adding to the mix is the lively Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing beer company—making Swift Street Courtyard a perfect spot for a glass of wine or a pitcher of ale.

 

Betty’s Eat Inn

Yes, she’s a real person; no, this isn’t her