Great White Sharks: The Biology of Carcharodon carcharias – A. Peter Klimley & David G. Ainley (editors)
Continuing my long record of doing things the wrong way around, I read this book after I completed the Michael Domeier-edited tome Global Perspectives on the Biology and Life History of the Great White Shark. This book is in many senses the predecessor to the Domeier volume, and comprises a series of papers presented at a symposium on white sharks held at the Bodega Marine Laboratory at the University of California in March 1993.
I will mention the things I learned about sharks from this collection in a separate post. Let me make some more general observations. The science described in this volume is twenty years old, and several things struck me when reading it. Firstly, the size of the data sets analysed by the scientists in many of these papers were small enough to be enumerated completely within the paper, still leaving pages free for analysis.
Satellite tagging of sharks – and other modern studies that rely on mechanised data collection – generate volumes of data that cannot be set out completely within a scientific paper, and require powerful computing and statistical tools to analyse them. I am inclined to state that for this reason the conclusions drawn from these much broader studies are commensurately firmer (I am revealing my bias for fact over speculation here – there is room for speculation, but it’s best left to those who are also armed with a few facts).
Not only were the data sets smaller when these papers were written, but (as to be expected) the methods of collecting data 20 or more years ago are simpler and more primitive (for want of a better word) than the methods in use today. Far more speculation about what sharks do while submerged was done 20 years ago than is necessary today, with the advent of small, relatively inexpensive underwater-adapted video cameras suitable for use as “critter-cams” and for similar underwater studies. Admittedly pop-up archival tags (PAT) and acoustic tags are still in use, but many more years of data are available. Tragically, there are also many more years of dead shark data from the KwaZulu Natal Sharks board available today than there were in 1993.