Elizabethan London

Elizabethan London
Tyburn was an infamous execution spot west of London, used since medieval times. The Tyburn "tree" - a unique, multi-person gallows - erected in 1571 became a popular public spectacle, drawing crowds of thousands.Tyburn Tree blog is less blood-thirsty but hopefully topical, interesting and informative, if slightly bent to my personal topics of interest - books, writing, history, technology, with a smattering of politics and dash of pop culture, science and the downright strange. So "take a ride to Tyburn" and see what happens...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Devil's Teeth

The Devil's Teeth : A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks by Susan Casey

"When a two-ton animal takes a taste of you, it doesn't do much good to apologize." - Peter Benchley

25 miles from where customers order tall lattes and casually sip cappachino's in Ghirardelli Square amid the noisy commerce of Fisherman's Wharf, a 400-million year old predator hunts.

The Devil's Teeth is a gripping and voraciously readable piece of work that looks at the Great White Sharks of the Farallon Islands, nicknamed The Devil's Teeth. A ragged, storm-tossed and desolate set of islands located 27 miles due west of San Francisco, the Farallon's are home to innumerable seabirds, a large colony of sea lions and one of the few known migratory gathering places for Great White Sharks.

Written by Susan Casey, The Devil's Teeth is one of the very best books of 2005. Captivated or obsessed, depending on your perspective, Casey ventures to the Farallon Islands to report on the Great White Shark study of biologists Peter Pyle and Scot Anderson. Venturing daily into the choppy environs that is the Farallons, the author joins the biologists in their dangerous work, tagging along after predators "so old they predate trees". Here's a brief excerpt:

"The killing took place at dawn and as usual it was a decapitation, accomplished by a single vicious swipe. Blood geysered into the air, creating a vivid slick that stood out on the water like the work of a violent abstract painter. Five hundred yards away, outside of the lighthouse on the island's highest peak, a man watched through a telescope. First he noticed the frenzy of gulls, bird gestalt that signaled trouble. And then he saw the blood. Grabbing his radio, he turned and began to run.

His transmission jolted awake the four other people on the island. 'We've got an attack off Sugarloaf, big one looks like'."

Casey's strings prose together in an intelligent, brisk and highly readable style, dropping elegant nuggets of shark lore, background on the Farallon's history (an "egg-station" where seabirds eggs were profitably gathered for years), and details on the Farallon shark study into a well-researched, well-written tome that draws a reader in and refuses to let them go until they too, start to wonder obsessively about these sepulchral denizens of the deep.

Reading the book, it occurred to me that I still didn't have a really good grasp on the sheer size of the Great White, so my seven-year old son and I took our measuring tape and his colored chalk and sketched out a life-size shark (based on Casey's measurements of "The Sisters", a group of older Farallon female Great Whites) on the sidewalk in front of our house. The scale was daunting to say the least and generated a new appreciation within me for both the biologists who daily ventured onto the sea to study the beasts, and a new respect for the author's obsession.

Just for fun, we added a life-size diver at the mouth end...passerbys were duely impressed.

I highly recommend The Devil's Teeth, it is a great read.

For more on sharks, check out the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation and visit this site for info on the Great Whites. Scared to hit the beach? Be sure to visit the Florida Museum of Natural History's Shark Attack List.

Drop by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Shark exhibit for a look at the myths and realities around sharks and shark behavior and be sure to watch these guys for some clues to Shark behavior..

Thanks for reading! As always, comments and feedback are always welcome.

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