282 pages, 25 b/w illustrations
Neptune's Ark illuminates the dramatic saga of evolution spanning 500 million years of marine life along the magnificent Pacific coast of western North America. In an engaging narrative that artfully blends elements of science, history, folklore, and personal observation, renowned naturalist David Rains Wallace reveals a marvelous diversity of creatures, not only modern ones, but those from the far prehistoric past. Mysterious forms have abounded – from giant sea cows, oyster bears, and flightless toothed birds to the orcas, elephant seals, and sea otters of modern times. Wallace tells a story about evolution as well as a tale of the storms, scurvy, and shipwrecks that plagued the coast's explorers, naturalists, and scientists, many of whom led turbulent or tragic lives, with themes reflected in the wonder and danger of the coast itself. Neptune's Ark is full of vivid characters – from explorers like Sir Francis Drake and Captain James Cook, to pioneer naturalists including Georg Steller and Charles Scammon, to early paleontologists Othniel Marsh and Edward Cope, and to recent scientists and ecological visionaries.
"Wallace's easy-going style, mixing personal adventures with textbook science, makes paleontology as readable as narrative history."
– The California Territorial Quarterly
"A fascinating narrative of adventures from the pioneer naturalists to modern scientists."
– Evelyne Bremond-Hoslet, Mammalia
"A quietly fascinating history of the sea [...] Wallace gives a great deal of space to the ways we've misunderstood things, which few science writers do, and lets the reader know about things we still don't understand."
– The Stranger
"One finds oneself in the ancient seas as unicellular life emerges and evolves to multicellularity, and one struggles with the field workers to find meaning in fragmentary fossils of forms so bizarre as to demand not interpretation, but invention [...] One also cannot wait to pick up each new trail as the fossil hunters unearth yet another enigma."
"The pages of this book are filled with flesh-eating ungulates, saber-toothed salmon, and seabirds large enough to darken the sky. The menagerie itself would be quite enough to hold a reader's attention, but Wallace also tells the story of the scientists who brought these
creatures to light."
– Bay Nature
"Neptune's Ark takes us on a voyage of discovery into the world of the enigmatic creatures who evolved in the ocean and the intrepid individuals who study them. In this moving and majestic book, David Rains Wallace navigates the mythic dimensions of humans' and animals' ancient, ambiguous relationship with the sea."
– Adrienne Mayor, author of The First Fossil Hunters and Fossil Legends of the First Americans
"In the pageant of creation, Earth's seas have always hosted the greatest part of the show. Wallace brings to life a spectacular array of marine organisms ancient and new, tiny and titanic, renowned and obscure – and some almost unimaginably weird – and illuminates often surprising connections between them. Have you ever wondered where modern sea lions come from? Or penguins? Pelicans? Manatees? Great whales? The answers, in Neptune's Ark, take your mind on a voyage through millions of years of natural history. Enjoy the swim."
– Douglas Chadwick, author of The Grandest of Lives
"Neptune's Ark delivers not only a riveting history of paleontology and the origins of marine mammalogy on the west coast-from Cope and Emlong to Steller and Scammon-but also a heartfelt tribute to the great creatures they all pursued so avidly."
– Dick Russell, author of Eye of the Whale
"Wallace writes fascinating accounts of the astounding menagerie of animals that once inhabited the waters of the west coast, from giant toothed birds, oyster bears, and the enigmatic Desmostylus, to enormous saber-toothed salmon. Paired with Ken Kirkland's exquisitely rendered and life-like drawings, this book is hard to put down."
– Ray Troll, author of Rapture of the Deep
List of Illustrations
Prologue. Steller’s Sea Ape
1 / Reefs in the Desert
2 / Amphibious Ambiguities
3 / Bird Teeth and Reptile Necks
4 / Tail Tales
5 / Cope’s Elusive Ophidians
6 / Hooves into Flippers
7 / Marsh’s Deceptive Desmostylians
8 / Emlong’s Whale
9 / Paws into Flippers
10 / Sea Cows and Oyster Bears
11 / The Long, Warm Summer
12 / Emptying Bays
13 / Punctuated Pinnipeds and Darwinian Sirenians
14 / Advent of Autumn
15 / Ice Age Invasions
16 / Hands into Paddles
17 / Pileated Woodpecker’s Boat
18 / The End of the Earth
19 / An Industrial Interlude
20 / Intimations of Communication
Epilogue. The Old Man of the Sea
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David Rains Wallace is the author of sixteen books, including Beasts of Eden: Walking Whales, Dawn Horses, and Other Enigmas of Mammal Evolution, A New York Times Notable Book; The Klamath Knot: Explorations of Myth and Evolution (Twentieth Anniversary Edition), winner of the John Burroughs Medal; The Bonehunter's Revenge: Dinosaurs, Greed, and the Greatest Scientific Feud of the Gilded Age; and The Monkey's Bridge: Mysteries of Evolution in Central America, A New York Times Notable Book.