The Sea Among Us
Edited by Richard Beamish and Gordon McFarlane. Harbour, 384 pp, hardcover
It’s generally accepted that we know more about the surface of the moon than the workings of the oceans, although when people say this they’re generally thinking of places like the Mariana Trench, almost 11 kilometres below the surface of the western Pacific. But how much do we really know about the sea that laps at our very own shores, providing a scenic and generally tranquil backdrop to Vancouver’s busy streets?
I thought I knew a thing or two, and this smug feeling of superiority was initially reinforced when I discovered a photograph of my favourite swimming beach decorating this volume’s endpapers. “Yes, this is a place I understand,” I mused, but the deeper I dove into The Sea Among Us: The Amazing Strait of Georgia, the more I realized that even my swimmer-and-boater’s interest was superficial at best. There’s more going on beneath the surface of the Salish Sea than most of us realize. Did you know, for instance, that there’s an active krill fishery in the Strait? I didn’t, but I do have to wonder about the benefits of harvesting the zooplankton that sustain our wild salmon and herring in order to make food for aquarium fish. On a happier note, did you know that our inshore waters are healthy enough to support eight species of shark, from the familiar spiny dogfish to the 5.5-metre-long bluntnose sixgill shark?
(Okay, I did know that. But now I’m going to hide this book from my shark-phobic swimming partner, and for God’s sake don’t tell her about the barracudas, electric rays, and record-setting cephalopods.)
The Sea Among Us is too cumbersome to make a good field guide, but its generous size allows editor-contributors Richard Beamish and Gordon McFarlane to enlist an impressive array of experts: occasional Straight contributor Terry Glavin writes on the original inhabitants of the Georgia Basin, for instance, while oceanographer Richard Thomson demystifies the tides and currents in welcomingly accessible language. For me, this late-2014 arrival was the B.C. book of the year, and you might not have to be a marine mammal to agree.