The following is a guest post from a graduate student in the Marine Ecology class that I am a TA for this semester. See the entire student blog at http://marineecologyblog.web.unc.edu/
by Geoffrey Neal
Let me speak to a most improbable little book that I am currently reading: Poseidon’s Steed (The Story of Seahorses, from Myth to Reality), Penguin Books, 2009. It’s by Helen Scales, PhD. She seems to be one of the more interesting scientists I’ve run across in my limited time as an air breather. http://helenscales.com/about/ is a good enough place to start. Combine that “About Me” with the preface to her book and you come up with someone who is as much about vitae as curriculum. I’m amazed… she’s had so much fun and managed to learn a great many things in the process.
OK, so now that we’ve established my crush on the peerless Dr. Scales, how about the book? It’s a slender work, just under 200 pages, sliced into six fleshy chapters. They take us through a historical look at seahorses from our early days as cave painters and myth-makers, into the present as we struggle to maintain (heck, even define) the balance between what our oceans give and what we continue to take. Along the way we find this curious little group of fishes, not even 17 million years old, sprinkled into nearly every salty place we’ve cast our net.
I particularly enjoyed the section of text recounting the invention of the aquarium and the lengths to which some would go in 19th century England to take a piece of the ocean home with them. It reminded me of when, as a child, I would stash a bucket full of wet sand into the back floorboard of the car on the last day of our one summer week at the beach. I still remember the smell as the water evaporated and the small mussels perished. More importantly, Dr. Scales reminds us throughout the book, gently and without finger-wagging, that the future of the seahorse (like the future of so much of the ocean’s inhabitants) is thoroughly entangled with our own. What we choose to eat, how we choose to heal ourselves, what we buy and sell, all have a part in this story. The stories of the seahorse fill this book to bursting and I found myself looking to the Notes and Bibliography, ready for more. As she so rightly states in her Epilogue, “If stories were all that were left of the seahorses, I don’t suppose anyone would believe us.”