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Shark Life: True Stories About Sharks & the Sea    by Peter Benchley order for
Shark Life
by Peter Benchley
Order:  USA  Can
Yearling, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, Softcover
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Peter Benchley is recognized for his books-to-movies, including Beast; The Deep, and Jaws, for which he also wrote the screenplay. Benchley is the creator and writer of TV documentaries (e.g. The American Sportsman), plus essays and articles for varied publications.

In the Preface to the true-life adventure Shark Life, the author comments, 'I've swum with sharks of all species, sizes, and temperaments all over the world, from Australia to Bermuda, South Africa to San Diego ... I've been threatened, but never attacked, bumped and shoved but never bitten, and - many times - frightened out of my flippers.' The author gives statistics of shark attacks vs. other means by which humans are injured or killed. Around ten million sharks are killed by humans, for their skin and meat, but mostly for the fins as fin soup sells for up to $100/bowl, around the world!

Benchley begins his narration with a South Australian shark experience in 1974, at Dangerous Reef in the Neptune Islands. In choppy cold water, he observed sea life from an aluminum shark cage, specifically to observe the great white shark. He describes its 'pointed snout, steel gray upper body with a contrasting ghostly white belly'. The lifeline rope got caught in the shark's teeth as the animal struggled to get free, while Benchley thought, 'This isn't really happening. It can't be! I'm just a writer'.

Benchley writes of various sea creatures considered a danger to humans. One of the few species of sharks that has 'earned the title of man-eater' is the tiger shark, with 'stripes on its flanks, and catlike-like protrusions, a broad flat head, curved, serrated teeth in its top and bottom jaws,' and a nictitating membrane (a defense mechanism found in many sharks) which covers the eyeball to offer protection from the teeth of prey. The scene became hairy when Peter's air tank gauge registers zero. He muses, 'Why? ... did I have to write a novel about a shark? Why not a novel about ... I don't know ... a puppy?'

Offering more than a diver's eye view of sharks, Benchley also covers learning to dive with scuba gear; tips for Swimming Safely in the Sea; survival techniques; and How To Avoid a Shark Attack. He describes other sea creatures feared by humans, including moray eels, squid, and sea anemones. In the closing chapter, Benchley emphasizes that there are millions of species of animals and 'We, that is, humankind - have long assumed that we are superior to all the others and that they exist only to serve our needs, our wants, our pleasures. Wrong! They are equals as tenants of this fragile planet ... Each and every animal deserves our respect and concern as we share our journey.'

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