Marine Life of the North Atlantic: Canada to New England

by Andrew J. Martinez and Richard A. Harlow. Marine Life. Soft cover, spiral bound, 272 pages.
How many collectors, I wonder, have tried to identify a mollusk from observations made on live specimens in the field when none of the standard shell books show anything but dead specimens? This all-too-familiar problem would soon become a thing of the past if more books like this one were available. An expertly photographed field guide to all variety of marine organisms, it is at once both useful and breathtaking.

Based in format on the marine photo-guides usually found for tropical areas like the Caribbean or Baja California, this book covers life under the sea from A[cadian hermit crabs] to Z[ irfaea crispata} and all manner of algae and fish in between. These pictures prove that there is beauty under every sea, even one as cold as the North Atlantic! Each pair of opposing pages is set up with text on the left page and a photo illustration for every species on the right. The text includes sections on the all-important identification criteria, habitat, range, and a comments section that includes interesting trivia and tidbits (common names, similar species, etc.). The photographs, especially those of the mollusks, are vibrant and clear, showing details of the living animals close up. In addition, the photo pages contain a useful feature I have not seen before: data lines for entering dates and locations where the reader has seen the species in the wild.

The mollusk section, by far the largest, is over 50 pages long, and is quite comprehensive for this geographic region. The four major classes are included, with the gastropods getting most of the attention. It is the pictures that immediately grab you here, and the photos of the nudibranchs are frankly spectacular, especially as many of them depict the animals laying their species-characteristic egg masses. Best, perhaps, is that the mollusks are photographed, for the most part, live in the field and not as dead shells arranged on a beach -- even the bivalves, a group that has always been poorly illustrated in this type of book. Rounding out this edition, excellent pictures of cnidarians and echinoderms (especially the feeding sea cucumbers) show beauty in the sea extends beyond the mollusks.

There are a few problems, to be sure. The few pictures of dead mollusks are of rather ratty ones, and although this might be a more accurate depiction of what the average person would find beachcombing, they look out of place here. A few typographical errors occur, the most glaring being the "bivalves" heading on the cephalopod pages; and since the authors give some synonyms, I would like to have seen at least the authors' names applied to the species. On the whole, however, the many photographic positives definitely outweigh the fe negatives.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this book is that it is privately published, something one doesn't see much of with these glossy photo-guides. This, I suspect, tends to make the book harder to find than many, but the hunt is worth the effort. For more information, write Marine Life, P.O. Box 335, Wenham, MA 01984.

--Chris Boyko, AMNH