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The Extreme Life of the Sea

Popular Science

By: Stephen R Palumbi (Author), Anthony R Palumbi (Author)

241 pages, 16 plates with colour photos; 30 b/w photos, 6 b/w illustrations

Princeton University Press

Paperback | Sep 2015 | #224384 | ISBN-13: 9780691169811
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £12.50 $15/€14 approx
Hardback | Feb 2014 | #209989 | ISBN-13: 9780691149561
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £19.95 $24/€22 approx

About this book

The ocean teems with life that thrives under difficult situations in unusual environments. The Extreme Life of the Sea takes readers to the absolute limits of the aquatic world – the fastest and deepest, the hottest and oldest creatures of the oceans. It dives into the icy Arctic and boiling hydrothermal vents – and exposes the eternal darkness of the deepest undersea trenches – to show how marine life thrives against the odds. This thrilling book brings to life the sea's most extreme species, and reveals how they succeed across the wide expanse of the world's global ocean. Coauthored by Stephen Palumbi, one of today's leading marine scientists, The Extreme Life of the Sea tells the unforgettable stories of some of the most marvelous life forms on Earth, and the challenges they overcome to survive. Modern science and a simple narrative style give every reader a deep look at the lives of these species.

The Extreme Life of the Sea shows you the world's oldest living species, and describes how flying fish strain to escape their predators, how predatory deep-sea fish use red searchlights only they can see to find and attack food, and how, at the end of their lives, mother octopus dedicate themselves to raising their young. This wide-ranging and highly accessible book also discusses how ocean adaptations can inspire innovative commercial products – such as fan blades modeled on the flippers of humpback whales – and how climate change and overfishing could pose the greatest threats yet to our planet's tenacious marine life.

"This gem of a book by marine biologist Stephen Palumbi and his son, science writer Anthony Palumbi, finds enough weirdness in the ocean to feed creativity for generations to come [...] The Palumbis' writing is a wonderful mix of meticulous science and creative panache [...] A joy whether read at one sitting, or dipped in and out of to prolong the pleasure."
– Callum Roberts, Nature

"Marine biologist Stephen R. Palumbi and writer Anthony R. Palumbi survey an impressive catch of extreme oceanic species, from the oldest to the deepest-dwelling [...] A brilliant use of the rich store of research into Earth's largest habitat."

"From 'immortal' jellyfish that age in reverse, to zombie bone worms that eat the skeletons of dead whales, the ocean is full of bizarre characters. Biologist Stephen Palumbi and his science writer son, Anthony, profile the most unusual specimens. Chapters cover the smallest, the oldest, the hottest and the coldest species, among others, and the landscape of strange creatures is brought to life by charming writing."
– Clara Moskowitz, Scientific American

"The Palumbis probe life in the depths of the oceans and in tide waters in successive chapters spotlighting the long-lived Bowhead whale; sea species that adapt to extremely high temperatures and others to cold; clownfish, which change gender, becoming male or female as circumstances dictate; and much more. The authors end with a warning that the oceans contain a complex ecology in which each species 'thrives in its easily disrupted specialized niche.' [...] A sparkling appreciation of the wonderful variety of marine life that also communicates an important message."
Kirkus Reviews

"The book reads like an action-adventure novel [...] This approach is a pleasant departure from dull textbook prose. It will delight readers who lack scientific credentials but yearn to understand the diversity of life in the oceans. The text demystifies, mystifies, and amazes."
– Geraldine Richards, ForeWord Reviews

"Highlighting the strangest cases in animate sea life, marine ecologist S.R. Palumbi exudes a palpable and contagious sense of delight as he enlists his writer son's help to fill the 'gap in character development' in the story of the ocean's robust yet fragile ecosystems [...] By showing how each creature is so tightly tied to its environment, the authors are able to effectively demonstrate how small human-driven changes to the oceans disrupt a complex system developed over millions of years. The Palumbis encourage a childlike curiosity by showing us the amazing diversity of life down below, and perhaps our inner children will pester our grownup selves into doing what needs to be done to keep these habitats intact."
Publishers Weekly

"A giddy scientific tour of weird underwater life."
– Richard Conniff, TakePart

"The Palumbis give us the sense that although some parts of nature are more romantically wondrous than others – those sponges, giant squids doing epic battle with sperm whales – it is the variety that is wonderful."
– Owen Richardson, Sydney Morning Herald

"The whole safari is conducted with a verve and joy that only comes from a deep love of the subject, a life-long dedication to its exploration and a true communicator's sense of the mot juste. This experience and range means the Palumbis can write comfortably about research and researchers, and about the physical and mental exploration of the ocean's ecology [...] [A] splendid book [...] a dynamic text."
– Adrian Barnett, New Scientist

"Stephen and Anthony Palumbi – father and son; biologist and science writer – are brilliant guides to this realm about which we as a species have been remarkably incurious [...] The Palumbis père et fils give us the new stories in succinct prose beautifully freighted with apt similes and metaphors."
– Peter Forbes, Independent

"The Extreme Life of the Sea is less narrative and more an enthusiastic sharing of cool things in the sea, which are loosely tied together in thematic sections. It is not, however, just a collection of 'gee whiz' facts. The compelling vignettes help to convey broader concepts of science and nature with excitement and enthusiasm [...] It reminds us that science and the natural world are really cool."
– Josh Witten, Finch and the Pea

"Highlighting the strangest cases of marine life, the authors give us a hint of the ocean's robust yet fragile ecosystems [...] In their delightful, vivid description about the struggle for existence in the sea, the Palumbis do manage to communicate a vital message: even the extreme conditions in the deep sea are not immune from disruptive and destructive human greed."
– Wan Lixin, Shanghai Daily

"Who doesn't like reading about the fantastical creatures that stalk the inky depths of the world's oceans? In The Extreme Life of the Sea, it's the marine environment's superlatives that are on display."
Scientist Magazine

"The uniqueness of this book is due to the combination of a novel's flair utilizing figurative language and analogies with scientific concepts [...] The authors seek to help us understand the value, complexity, and vastness of the ocean and the importance of consequences of their actions. I think that this would be an excellent book in a seminar for high school students and biology majors in college."
– Jean Worsley, NSTA Recommends

"The oceans are our most precious treasure, full of creatures and stories more fantastic than any science fiction. The Extreme Life of the Sea is a fascinating exploration of this vast mysterious universe. Wonderfully written, it will grab you from page one and carry you all the way through. A must-read for everyone."
– Philippe Cousteau

"This book brims with fascinating tales of life in the sea, told with freshness, wit, and verve. Simply wonderful."
– Callum Roberts, author of Ocean of Life: How Our Seas Are Changing

"The Extreme Life of the Sea will reignite your fascination with how much life lives beneath the waves. This is extremely good reading."
– Randy Olson, author of Don't Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style

"What better way to learn about life in the ocean – and how we are changing it – than through stories of blind zombie worms, immortal jellyfish, and unicorns of the sea? The Extreme Life of the Sea is an insightful book that inspires awe and wonder about our ocean, and brilliantly shows us the immense possibilities of life on Earth."
– Enric Sala, explorer-in-residence, National Geographic

"The Extreme Life of the Sea is filled with wonder and appreciation for what lives in that most mysterious realm on Earth. We travel to the furthest points of the conceptual compass – the biggest, smallest, oldest, fastest, and hottest. By crisscrossing these polarities, we sense how far life has come and see the extremes to which life has gone. Pure pleasure."
– Carl Safina, author of The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World

"The Extreme Life of the Sea reveals some of the amazing aspects of ocean life and why we should care. This accessible book will inspire a broad audience – and with any luck help to inspire change. The authors have done a superb job of communicating much of what is special about the ocean."
– Paul V. R. Snelgrove, author of Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life: Making Ocean Life Count


Preface and Acknowledgments: Guiltless Wonder vii
Prologue The Epic Ocean 1

1 The Earliest 5
2 The Most Archaic 19
3 The Smallest 36
4 The Deepest 46
5 The Shallowest 65
6 The Oldest 81
7 The Fastest Sprints and Longest Journeys 94
8 The Hottest 112
9 The Coldest 125
10 The Strangest Family Lives 141
11 Future Extremes 158

Epilogue: A Grand Bargain 175
Notes 179
Index 209
Color figures follow page 84.

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Stephen R. Palumbi is Professor of Biology and Director of the Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University. His film projects include the BBC series The Future Is Wild, the History channel's Life after People, and the Short Attention Span Science Theater. His books include The Death and Life of Monterey Bay and The Evolution Explosion.

Anthony R. Palumbi, Stephen's son, is a science writer and novelist whose work has appeared in the Atlantic and other publications.

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