184 pages, 16 colour plates
When viewed from a quiet beach, the ocean, with its rolling waves and vast expanse, can seem calm, even serene. But hidden beneath the sea's waves are a staggering abundance and variety of active creatures, engaged in the never-ending struggles of life – to reproduce, to eat, and to avoid being eaten.
With Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime, marine scientist Ellen Prager takes us deep into the sea to introduce an astonishing cast of fascinating and bizarre creatures that make the salty depths their home. From the tiny but voracious arrow worms whose rapacious ways may lead to death by overeating, to the lobsters that battle rivals or seduce mates with their urine, to the sea's masters of disguise, the octopuses, Prager not only brings to life the ocean's strange creatures but also reveals the ways they interact as predators, prey, or potential mates.
And while these animals make for some jaw-dropping stories – witness the sea cucumber, which ejects its own intestines to confuse predators, or the hagfish that ties itself into a knot to keep from suffocating in its own slime-there's far more to Prager's account than her ever-entertaining anecdotes: again and again, she illustrates the crucial connections between life in the ocean and humankind, in everything from our food supply to our economy, and in drug discovery, biomedical research, and popular culture.
Written with a diver's love of the ocean, a novelist's skill at storytelling, and a scientist's deep knowledge, Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime enchants as it educates, enthralling us with the wealth of life in the sea – and reminding us of the need to protect it.
"If you read only one book about the ocean, read this one. Learn and laugh about the astonishing creatures of the sea and discover the connections that all living things share, and realize that trouble for ocean life is trouble for human life. A thoroughly entertaining, sobering, and inspiring must-read for all who care about the future of the sea, and the future of humankind."
– Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence
"The oceans could have no better storyteller than Ellen Prager. Each page leaves you wondering what extraordinary creature or behavior would appear next or how even those that seem the most ordinary have mysteries beyond our imagination. Beyond inspiring wonder, Prager tells why it all matters, from the tiniest to the largest creature, our health, our lives, the economy and our future are interconnected in astonishing ways."
– US Congressman Brian Baird, former chairman of the Energy and Environment subcommittee
"Prager provides ocean enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds – from Key West to Kalamazoo – with easy to understand and entertaining descriptions of what lies beneath and why all of us should care about marine life. Her work will serve as serious inspiration to all, from the average Joe to the next generation of oceanographers, scientists, and explorers."
– US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida
"Ellen Prager has produced a fascinating and delightful read about the amazing diversity of life under the sea. She describes a panoply of strange and wondrous creatures in an accessible and non-technical fashion that leaves you shaking your head in wonder. Prager's book will make you want to head to the nearest shore and jump right in!"
– Lisa Speer, Director of International Oceans Program, Natural Resources Defense Council
"Packed with excellent conversation fodder for your next date, this book details the strange lives and mating rituals of sea creatures. Choose your anecdotes wisely, though: That romantic seafood dinner may become less appetizing once you explain that lobsters use urine during foreplay, or that male octopi copulate with a 'specialized baby-maker arm.'"
– Sierra Magazine
"The ocean may look lifeless from the deck of a ship, but under the water live many creatures large and small. In the past, writers have claimed there was an abundance of life in the seas, but marine scientist Prager reports that overfishing, pollution, and global warming have already taken a great toll on marine life. She hopes there is still time to save ocean creatures, for their sake and ours. The problem is getting people to care, and to do so they must be aware of the diversity and value of marine life. In this introduction to ocean life, Prager briefly describes an array of creatures, starting with microscopic diatoms, copepods, and plankton and thematically progressing through rare, dangerous, and slow-developing invertebrates, fishes, birds, and marine mammals. Aiming to entertain as well as teach, she often focuses on oddities and strange behaviors. Her detailed observations will be most appreciated by natural-history readers."
"A tastefully scandalous tour of defensive secretions and extreme sexual flexibility backs up a plea for ocean conservation."
– Science News
"Prager plumbs the depths for strange or marvelous organisms, first wowing us with their weirdness and then reeling us in with their worth – be it culinary, medicinal, biotechnological, or recreational. Her exuberant writing reveals a personal enthrallment with her protagonists. She's the perfect guide for an undersea exploration."
– Audubon Magazine
"The ocean is endlessly fascinating and mysterious. With her easy and engaging writing, Ellen Prager conveys a deeply delightful introduction to all kinds of ocean creatures and their links to society. A great book for beginners and one even experts can learn from and enjoy, this is possibly the best general book ever written on creatures of the deep."
– Carl Safina, author of The View From Lazy Point
"Prager [...] uses breezy, accessible prose to evoke the beauty and magic of the underwater world."
– Wall Street Journal
A Note on the Title
1. The Invisible Crowd
2. Mega-Slime, Seduction, and Shape-Shifting
3. Let’s Talk Snails
4. The Riddle of the Reef
5. Armed and Dangerous
6. Cabinet of Curiosities
8. Radical Living
9. Danger Looms
10. The Good News
11. How You Can Help
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Ellen Prager, a marine scientist, was formerly the chief scientist at the world's only undersea research station, Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys. She is the author of several books, including Chasing Science at Sea, which is also published by the University of Chicago Press.