Blue Meridian

Bookshelf: Blue Meridian

Blue Meridian – Peter Matthiessen

Blue Meridian
Blue Meridian

This book is beautifully written – Peter Matthiessen is one of the finest wildlife/adventure writers of his generation, and here he documents the efforts of a film crew to track down great white sharks for a documentary (Blue Water, White Death) that they are filming. They journey by boat from Durban, where they film sharks munching on whale carcasses (this was in 1969), to Sri Lanka, where they are helped by the same man, Rodney Jonklaas, who assisted Arthur C. Clarke in The Reefs of Taprobane, to find locations suitable for filming sharks, to Madagascar, and finally to Australia, where they encounter great whites.

The characters are beautifully drawn, and Matthiessen captures the grind of nature documentary filmmaking, and the depression that periodically sinks over the crew as it becomes clear that nature has no interest in co-operating for their movie. This made the book quite difficult to read in parts – their discouragement was palpable.

The poor state of great white shark research at that stage – the book was published in 1971 – is illustrated by the team’s efforts to find concentrations of these sharks in warm, tropical oceans – devoid of seals and other food for great whites – known to be favoured by tiger sharks, oceanic white tips and hammerheads. This despite the fact that two of the team members (spear fishers Ron and Valerie Taylor, who made an appearance in the other Clarke book I’ve reviewed from his Blue Planet Trilogy, The Coast of Coral) assure the rest of the crew that they will definitely find great whites in Australian waters, and that they are wasting their time in Sri Lanka (which they did) and off Madagascar (which they did).

In the final few pages of the book they do locate some great whites off Australia, and it’s a suitably awe-inspiring event. The film they were working on did eventually get made – Tony owns the DVD and we will watch it sometime. It was directed by Peter Gimbel, one of the characters who features in Deep Descent, about diving shipwrecks in the North Atlantic.

Buy the book here, or here if you’re in South Africa.

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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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