“Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks” by Juliet Eilperin (Pantheon, 2011)

Demon Fish
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If you’re reading this, chances are you have some sort of fear of sharks . . . and maybe by discovering what Demon Fish is about, you will confront these fears, learn more about these incredible fish, and in turn come to respect them as the amazing creatures that they are.  Well, if there was a book that could help you with that, Demon Fish is certainly it.

Juliet Eilperin works for the Washington Post.  Her first book was on politics, Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives, but in April of 2004 she covered the environment for the national desk, reporting on science, climate change, and the oceans.  If there were a comprehensive biography of the ancient, long-lived fish known as the shark, Demon Fish would qualify.  Eilperin begins with an introduction of her first meeting with these majestic yet powerful and terrifying creatures, and how she grew to appreciate them.  She tells the story of the World-Famous Shark Callers found on the island of Papua New Guinea, who have been hunting these fish for centuries with a ritualistic method that involves calling the shark, then capturing it; once killed every part of the fish is used in some way.  But Shark Calling is a dying art, especially when there are other companies that use more modern technology to deplete the nearby shark populations.

Eilperin’s chapter on “An Ancient Fish” presents a full history of the shark, starting long ago during the time of the dinosaurs when they were massive creatures feared by just about everything beneath the waves (and above no doubt), to the smaller but no less frightening versions of today.  The shark is in fact one of the oldest, longest living creatures on the planet, and now has over four hundred species.  Eilperin travels the world, visiting and working with different people who interact with sharks in different ways: whether it’s fishing for them, taking tourists out to see them and attempt to catch them, or tagging and conserving and protecting them however they can.  She devotes a significant portion of the book to the shark fin industry, which is the biggest threat to this fish, as the restaurants of Asia (as well as many others around the world) continue to serve shark fin soup, even though it doesn’t taste of much – as Eilperin makes clear – but is a cultural expectation, not just in Asian restaurants but expected to be served at weddings as a sign of the bride’s family’s noble standing.

Demon Fish doesn’t attempt to convince or convert or proselytize on the threatened numbers and species of shark around the world; Eilperin just presents the facts and realities for what they are in many different places across the globe.  It is clear that things are not fine with this ancient fish, and when the likes of Jaws and other similar stories continue to perpetuate this fear of a gravely misunderstood creature, Demon Fish does an excellent job of informing and educating, making one realize at the end that the shark is simply another one of the incredibly unique animals populating this planet and has just as much right to live and breed and exist as all the others do, including the many humans who fear it.

Originally written on September 23, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Amazon and help support BookBanter.

An exclusive interview with Juliet Eilperin will be available on BookBanter on November 15th.

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