Authors: Gene Helfman and George H. Burgess
: Johns Hopkins University Press- 249 pages
Book Review by
: Sonu Chandiram

The 1975 blockbuster Jaws by Steven Spielberg, which became the highest-grossing Hollywood film until then, caused terror in us, but also thrilled us to no end. How many times did you see it?

But there is a lot still unknown about the man-eating Great White Shark depicted in that movie, and about other sharks. For example, you will find out upon reading this book about:

  • The Whale Shark, the largest and heaviest known shark, growing to more than 21 metric tons (about 47,000 pounds) and about 42 feet long!
  • The Great White Shark, one of the most ferocious of sharks, that grows to more than 7,000 pounds and 26 feet length.
  • The mysterious and powerful Greenland Shark, one of the larger sharks, that reaches a weight of 2,200 pounds and up to 24 feet in length.
  • The Cookiecutter Shark, on the other hand, is the smallest known shark, growing only up to two feet length, very slender, and weighing about 165 pounds.

This book deals with the biology, behavior, diversity (1,000+ species worldwide) of sharks; their relationship with rays and skates; and their role in maintaining healthy ecosystems.

To give you a ‘bird’s-eye’ view these are the chapters in this book:

  1. Introducing Sharks, Skates, Rays and Chimaeras
  2. Form and Function of Sharks
  3. Shark Colors
  4. Shark Behavior
  5. Shark Ecology
  6. Reproduction and Development
  7. Foods and Feeding
  8. Sharks and Humans
  9. Shark Problems (from a human’s viewpoint)
  10. Human Problems (from a shark’s viewpoint)
  11. Sharks in Stories, Media and Literature
  12. “Sharkology”

The book provides you historical, anthropological, and other scientific facts and data, along with stunning full-color and black-and-white photographs, including those that compare the sizes some of their huge features with people, e.g. a boy in a shark’s jaws.

Within the chapter titles you will find ordinary, common-sense questions, so this book is highly accessible and practical. Here are some examples of such questions:

  • When did sharks evolve?
  • What is the fastest shark?
  • What is the largest shark that ever lived?
  • Why are sharks important?
  • Can sharks see color?
  • Do sharks sleep?
  • Do sharks fight?
  • Do sharks play?
  • Do sharks talk?
  • How do sharks reproduce?
  • Do male and female sharks live together?
  • How long do sharks live
  • How fast do sharks grow?
  • How can I see sharks in the wild?
  • How can I see sharks in captivity?
  • Why do people hunt sharks?

You will find answers to these and many other questions you may have in your mind. This is a fascinating book.

Gene Helfman is a professor emeritus at the Odum School of Ecology’s Program in Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development, University of Georgia. He is coauthor of Fishes: The Animal Answer Guide, also published by Johns Hopkins

George H. Burgess is coordinator of museum operations and director of the Florida Program for Shark Research at the Florida Museum of Natural History.