by David A. Ebert (text) and Matthew D. Squillante (illustrations), University of California Press, 2003, 284 pages, $19.95 (www.ucpress.edu).
Bat rays. Great whites. Ratfishes. Mantas. Who isn’t at least a little fascinated by sharks and their cartilaginous kin? They not only stir our imaginations, but with 68 species of these chondrichthyans inhabiting the waters of California alone, they play an important role in our marine ecosystems. So why has it been half a century since anyone wrote a guide dedicated to these creatures? Fortunately, renowned shark expert David Ebert has now written a guide to all such species known to inhabit California’s waters, from inland estuaries to 500 miles offshore.
Sharks, Rays, and Chimaeras of California was crafted to be a hands-on field guide for amateur enthusiasts, anglers and ichthyologists alike. Following a helpful introductory section on the general biology of cartilaginous fish, the book is organized for quick and accurate identification of species as they are encountered, with straightforward, detailed illustrations. Line drawings comparing the unique mouth and tooth shapes of each species are especially helpful for quick identification. For each species there is a subsection on “Human Interactions” that explains the commercial status of the fish, as well as likely ways of encountering the species and what, if any, dangers it poses to humans. This is an especially important feature in dispelling the largely unfounded fears people harbor toward all members of the shark family.