It's really cool and also beautiful, it's always at hand when I need it, yet it doesn't interrupt when I want to do something else. We never fight. Best of all, it teaches me something new all the time.
The book is called Ocean: The World's Last Wilderness Revealed, and it is huge.
It is 12" x 10", 512 pages, and nearly 6 pounds, to be exact. It is so big because everything you could imagine having to do with oceans in any way is discussed and described and photographed in this book. Every page is in full-color, photographs galore. There are atlases of the oceans. There are explanations of ocean currents, of plate tectonics, and of salt farming. There is a fully illustrated guide to species, from bacteria and protozoa, to sponges and molluscs, to birds and reptiles and mammals.
Each page has one huge photograph of something spectacular -- a gigantic fish, for example -- and then surrounding the large photograph are smaller photographs of related things -- smaller fish or similar fish or fish that live in the same region -- with paragraphs of explanatory text around them. So each page is chock full of information and really cool things to look at besides.
Here are some of the facts I've learned so far:
- Oceans are the largest habitat on earth. Yet because of the depth of the water, we know very little about them. We have better maps of the moon.
See? Look at all that ocean.
(Photo from Kennesaw University)
- (It may no longer be true that our maps of the ocean floor are not so great. Google Earth has recently finished using its satellites to render maps of the ocean floor.)
- Free divers pooh-pooh the oxygen tank. They simply hold their breath. The deeper they go, the more their lungs get squeezed by the pressure of all that water above them. But at the same time, their blood vessels expand, so they're all right. Some free divers have gone as far as 600 feet deep -- that's on one gigantic breath.
- 600 feet might not seem like much. But compare this: in 1960, two guys took their ocean diving craft called the Trieste into a really deep part of the Mariana Trench -- the deepest place on earth. They dove down 35,797 feet. In their powered craft, it took them 5 hours to get down there. No one else has dived as deep since.
- There are mountains on the sea floor. These are called seamounts, and they have to be at least 3,300 feet tall to qualify (El Capitan in Yosemite is 3,300 feet tall). Yet they are completely submerged. There are some 100,000 of them on the ocean floor.
- Lobsters migrate. On their spiky little arms, they walk in single file across the ocean floor.
- There's a place on the coast of Namibia called the Skeleton Coast where the desert goes right into the sea. I mean, the ocean waters are lapping against the desert sands. This seems to defy all logic. You would think that all that ocean water would rain down on the coastline and water that desert, but no. It condenses into a near-permanent fog, the wind usually blows off the water into the ocean, and the desert stays desert.
The Skeleton Coast
(Photo by Pepix2007 on Flickr)
- It is called the Skeleton Coast because all that fog and the high winds and the overall insanity of the place make it very hard for ships to navigate, and countless ships have run aground there. Survivors who make it to land encounter a long walk through desert and then they have to cross a mountain range before they find any people.
- Birds that steal food from the mouths of other birds are called kleptoparasitic birds.
- There's something called a Prickly Redfish that looks like a huge lumpy carpet. It's actually a kind of sea cucumber, and it crawls across the seafloor on its orange tube feet. It's considered a delicacy in East Asian cuisine.
(Photo from the Australian Government Reef Monitoring program)
- The fur of the sea otter is the densest of any mammal on the planet. Because its fur is so dense, the sea otter's skin never gets wet, even though it spends its entire life in the water.
- Sometimes old coral reefs get so sculpted by the ebb and flow of tidal waters that they get carved away on the sides and underneath until they stand up out of the water like tables, or mushrooms. These are called champignons, which is French for mushrooms.
Champignon in a lagoon, I think in the Indian Ocean
(Photo by Donald & Esther)
The carving action of the water is more dramatic on this champignon.
(Photo by Ben Stobart, Aldabra Marine Programme)
- Most marine mammals (sea lions, seals, penguins, walruses, etc.) are completely carnivorous. No vegetarians there.
- There's a sinkhole off the coast of Belize called the Great Blue Hole. It's a 480-foot hole in the limestone reef and because of its depth, the water has a brilliant blue color. People do go diving there, but it's treacherous because of the stalactites hanging down from the walls and the fact that sharks like to hang out in it.
The Great Blue Hole. Not kidding about the blue.
(Photo from Biocassanova's blog)
- The Cookiecutter shark has lips that hold its victim in place and then its teeth bites cookie-shaped chunks from its prey.
- Juvenile zebra sharks have stripes. Adult zebra sharks have spots.
- Polar ice can be different colors. If it's white, it has a lot of air bubbles trapped in it. Older ice that's had most of the air bubbles compressed out of it is blue. Sometimes an iceberg can flip over, in which case the algae growing on the bottom becomes visible, and the ice appears to be green.
- You've probably heard of the fjords in Norway. But did you also know that there are fjords in Chile? That's what the Andes mountains descend into on the southwest coast of Chile. There are 21,500 square miles of fjords down there.
These people have gotten off the M/V Mare Australis cruiseliner and are taking the optional trek on the ice fjords on the Chilean coast. Note the blue ice!
(Photo from Explore UK, which has more information about this cruise)
- The vampire squid is bioluminescent (glows) and it has things called photophores on the tips of its arms. When a predator tries to get it, the vampire squid thrashes its arms and releases sparkles of light all over the place into the water. The flashing lights distract the predator and by the time the sparkles have died out, the squid has escaped.
- A polar bear's paw may be over 12 inches wide.
I'm telling you, this book is magnificent. Oh, I forgot to mention: I got it for $6.50 from my local Border's.