With the recent headlines screaming about shark attacks off the coast of Florida, many people have reignited their interest and their fear of these great and terrifying beasts. One woman actually lived among them for a few weeks and got to gaze firsthand into the depths of shark-infested waters off the coast of Northern California. The end result is one of the best books this reviewer has read in the last several years – a veritable thrill-ride into the world of the mighty Great Whites.
Susan Casey, development editor of Time, Inc., and editor of Sports Illustrated Women, is also a writer whose work has appeared in several top magazines. But this adventurous woman had an even bigger dream, and she did not want to die without ever fulfilling it. That dream led her to the tiny and desolate Farallon Islands just off the coast of San Francisco, to a world so vastly different from life on the mainland. Casey got to ride along on a seventeen-foot Boston Whaler and venture into the eerie and often deadly world of shark researchers, biologists who spent half the year holed up on an island almost as deadly as the sharks they were studying.
Casey, along with biologists Peter Pyle and Scot Anderson, spent time with a handful of interns and other researchers on a desolate island, living in a 120-year-old house with little in the way of resources, just so they could get up close and personal with some of the world’s most misunderstood creatures – Great White Sharks. The Devil’s Teeth actually refers to the Farallon Islands, caught in a primordial time warp where often the weather threatens to kill you before the hungry sharks do. But for this game author, no amount of terrible weather or lack of decent provisions could keep her from fulfilling her dream of running with the sharks, and the end result is a book that you simply cannot put down.
From page one, we are caught up in the author’s adventure, and her passion and determination carries her, and the reader, through numerous near-fatal attacks, whether from shark, gale force winds, or even the frightening paranormal experiences she and the others experience on the remote island. Casey almost dies several times, and we are right there with her, getting the blow by blow account of every shark attack, every destructive storm, and more than a few human mishaps that cause things to go awry for everyone on The Shark Project.
The massive sharks are the center of attention, although the author shares center stage many times with detailed and harrowing accounts of her experiences on the whaler and on the Farallon Islands few humans even know exists. There is plenty of scientific research and biological information about sharks and other sea and birdlife distinctive to the Farallons, and plenty of history of the utterly fascinating islands themselves, founded on the blood, sweat and tears of the egging industry that struggled to tame the wild and vicious natural setting. There is even some chilling detail into the dumping of toxic nuclear waste in the area in the 1970s, and how that waste has been all but ignored over the decades, despite evidence of it having entered the food chain.
But mostly there is just plain outstanding storytelling, and the fact that it all really happened makes it a true page-turner just waiting to be snapped up by some savvy movie producer.
The Devil’s Teeth is exciting and educational, but most of all it is inspiring. It is about a woman living among sharks, and it is about sharks and their habits and behaviors. And it is about an amazingly wild and undiscovered place right off the coast of California, where the world seems to stand still and nature strives to perform only for itself. But it is also about a woman who dared to go out on a limb and live out her ultimate dream, no matter if it killed her. And for Susan Casey, it almost did.