Book club: ‘Eye of the Shoal’ by Helen Scales

‘A sprawling, ambitious underwater journey studded with fascinating tidbits’ – New York Times

book photo
The cover of ‘Eye of the Shoal’ illustrated by Aaron John Gregory

When talking about the most spectacular or interesting marine creatures in our oceans, it is often the case that fish don’t really get the credit they so rightfully deserve. Step forward Dr Helen Scales, who’s fantastic book ‘Eye of the Shoal: A Fishwatcher’s Guide to Life, the Ocean and Everything’ challenges misconceptions around fish by exploring their complex and colourful lives, as well as their important evolutionary past. By combining a crash course on ichthyology with her own personal research experiences and a series of fun and informative anecdotes, Scales provides a compelling reminder of just how amazing fish can really be and why we need to re-think the way we are currently exploiting them.

Thousands of species of African Chichlids in Lake Malawi highlights the incredible diversity and evolutionary power amongst fish

The book begins by looking at the birth of ichthyology as a subject and the first attempts at studying and classifying fish (some genuine and scientific, others outdated and fantastical). We are then introduced to the many different groups and types of fish and the key characteristics that separate them, before diving into the adaptations that make them so successful. Using her expert knowledge Scales explains the complex nature of fish, including their crazy colour schemes, dazzling bioluminescence, skilful swimming, varied diets, social shoal life, potent toxins, underappreciated intelligence and underwater symphonies. Because of this every chapter provides a new and compelling reason to love these scaly sea creatures more than you previously thought possible.

A shoal of fish involves many complex behaviours and social interactions and highlights how fish are a lot more advanced than we give them credit for

In addition to highlighting what makes fish so incredible, this book also explores the human-fish relationship over time. Each chapter ends with a short tale about fish from a different culture or country, showing how fish in the past were revered and even feared across the world. Unfortunately our love affair with fish hasn’t seemed to extend to modern times and fish are now one of the biggest victims of our over exploitation of the seas. That is why Scales ends her book by encouraging us to re-think how we feel about fish and why their conservation should be of the upmost importance. In this way ‘Eye of the Shoal’ doubles up as not just a brilliant exploration of the lives of fish, but also a rallying cry to help save them.

This review is the eighth in our new Marine Madness Book Club! At the beginning of every month we will be releasing a new review of an ocean inspired book and encouraging you to let us know what you think in the comments and via social media. To find out more visit the Book Club page here.

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