When Disaster is Only a Wetsuit Away

This book’s title says it all: for 30 years, Bill Curtsinger has been ranging the world with his underwater photographic equipment,
making pictures of creatures that live in extreme environments. Shooting for the U.S. Navy and then for National Geographic, he has worked
in close proximity with sharks, whales, turtles, marine mammals and salmon, as well as a variety of other animals and plants. A longtime Maine
resident, he has also done extensive work in the waters of the Gulf of Maine.

Like all good pictures, Curtsinger’s tell stories. Flightless Emperor penguins speed downward in pursuit of food, trailing bubbles as they
act for all the world like the birds they are. A whale’s tail moves powerfully through the water, narrowly missing the puny human swimming behind
and below. Predatory leopard seals lounge on ice in one series of photos, while in another picture a single Leopard seal stares menacingly at the
photographer through a scrim of Antarctic plankton. Each image is memorable for what it says about the animal being photographed – and about the
intrepid (if vulnerable) photographer protected by nothing more than a wetsuit.

In the Gulf of Maine, the pictures in the book are of freakish fish like the monkfish and ocean pout, as well as more familiar species such as
harbor porpoise, seals and herring. There are crabs, skate, wolf fish, starfish, ocean sunfish – and a memorable series of mating seals.

Curtsinger tells his own stories in a series of chapter introductions. At French Frigate Shoals northwest of Hawaii, he observes nesting albatross,
but he’s really waiting to photograph tiger sharks. “During the months of June and July,” he writes, “tiger sharks come close to shore at French Frigate
Shoals. Their presence here coincides with the first flights of young albatross chicks at about eight weeks after hatching.” The rest of the story is in the pictures,
as sharks photographed at close range lunge at birds and swallow them whole, trailing feathers in the water.

This is a beautiful book, marred slightly by typographical errors here and there in the text. According to Curtsinger, the Italian copy-editor
was not as proficient in English as she might have been. The photo reproduction, however, is as magnificent as the wild creatures themselves.

David D. Platt is editor of Working Waterfront.