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A journalist’s obsession brings her to a forgotten island 30 miles off the California coast, where frightening and mysterious predators congregate – along with the scientists who study them.

The Devil’s Teeth – A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks by Susan Casey is a thoroughly-researched book about the Farallon Islands and the shark research project based there. It’s more of an adventure story than a book of hard scientific details, so there are not a lot of biological facts about the sharks here. The author is a journalist, not a scientist.

However, there are some interesting descriptions of the shark’s behavior. Some of the Great Whites are described by the researchers as being “gentle and maternal” or “goofy”. It’s hard to imagine sharks as wide as Mack trucks having such personalities, but you realize when reading this that they are likable animals, not monsters.

Casey’s obsession began when she watched a documentary. Soon afterwards, she was on her way to the Farallons, a group of islands known to nineteenth century sailors as “The Devil’s Teeth” for their ragged appearance and danger. Casey gives us a few second-hand accounts of shark attacks on seals, and a lot of detail about roughing it on the island and being infested with bird lice picked up from the many birds nesting there. There were not a lot of first-hand observations of the sharks. I was hoping for more shark encounters.

The historical accounts of the Farallons are interesting. It was fun to read about Ron, a regular urchin diver at the islands and a very brave man, in my opinion. However, the work of the scientists and naturalists who have been studying the sharks for decades should have been the focus of this book. Instead, it was more about one journalist’s adventure. What I did find off-putting was the fact that the author managed to lose a 60-foot yacht at sea, which got one of the researchers banned from the island and fired, as well as nearly terminating the entire shark research project. That was hard to read, as the man had put his entire life into this research. The book is truly about Susan Casey’s obsession, and not the project or the people involved. She had the opportunity of a lifetime to observe these animals as most people will never be able to, and she nearly ruined it.

The book is entertaining, though, sometimes humorous and definitely worthwhile if you have any interest in Great White Sharks at all. There are some fantastic pictures of the sharks and the island. The info the book did contain about the sharks was fascinating, and it was a good look into the conditions on the island while the researchers are there.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars – worth a read for the sharks

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