Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life

Bookshelf: Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life

Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life – Paul Snelgrove

This is another project of the Census of Marine Life.

Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life
Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life

I struggled with this book – I wanted it to be something other than what it is. I was expecting a  litany of gorgeous new marine life. What the book is, is a brief and awkwardly written (but we can overlook this) outline of the different ocean habitats, a summary of the rationale for the Census of Marine Life, a description of some of the projects that fell under the auspices of the Census (a bewildering array of acronyms), and an all too brief description of the experimental techniques used by the census takers.

This latter part was by far the most interesting to me – the transponderes, tagging systems and other ways in which the census gathered its data are cutting edge and remarkable. I was particularly taken with the use of acoustic technology to determine the size and composition of schools of fish. Apparently different fish give off different signals when sound waves are propagated through their schools, enabling the researchers to non-invasively count and identify the fish in different ocean regions. There’s also a slightly sad-looking sea lion with a tag on its head, the size of a match box. These tags can record all manner of information about the creature’s travels in the sea, water temperature, how deep it dives, and so on. Since technology enables us to make things smaller every day, the tags just get better and more useful.

The book is interspersed with photographs of cool new marine life, but not that many. My favourite by far was the adorable yeti crab.

Yeti crab
Yeti crab

There are also photos of census takers at work. Tony was particularly impressed with himself when I showed him one of the ways in which the census takers audited reef life: they deposited PVC containers with little holes in on the reefs, left them there for a year or two, and then retrieved them to see what life had moved in. Much like our artificial reef project, only more scientific!

At the end of each chapter is several pages of referenced papers, which enables you to go and look up in far more detail anything that caught your fancy.

The French documentary Oceans, which I reviewed previously, was part of the Census project.  There is a bit of information about how some of the material was filmed (something which interested me and Tony when we watched it) – turns out they used towed cameras and cameras on poles to track some of the fast moving marine life. The shots were steadier than a dude on scuba could ever achieve!

You can buy the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here.

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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