When journalist Susan Casey watches a documentary about the great white sharks near northern California’s Farallon Islands, it awakens within her an intense longing to get up close and personal with the mysterious predators.
After getting in touch with Scot Anderson and Peter Pyle, the island’s main shark researchers, Casey manages to get a rare one-day pass to the Farallones, where her love of the harsh conditions on and around the area known to 19th century sailors as the “devil’s teeth” becomes a full-fledged obsession.
The Devil’s Teeth is Casey’s chronicle of all her visits to the Farallon Islands, the last of which coincides with the final efforts by biologists to research the dozens of sharks that return each year.
Just like Casey and most of the rest of the world, I had no idea that the Farallones existed. They’re less than thirty miles off the coast of San Francisco, and from September to November are home to a huge number of some of the biggest great white sharks ever seen.
Because the islands are the only place in the world where one can study great whites behaving naturally, it’s the perfect place to research an animal about which we know almost nothing. Scot Anderson and Peter Pyle observed the sharks for over a decade, and overturned a lot of what we thought we knew:
Scientists thought great whites hunted at night; they hunt by day. They thought these sharks had poor vision and stalked by smell; they’re visual predators. People thought these animals were insensate killing machines, but in truth they go after their prey with caution and a plan.
Casey is a talented writer, and listening to the book I could almost hear the screeching gulls and feel the sea spray, and see the craggy and treacherous Farallones stretching out in front of me.
You know what’s even more lame than not liking the main character of a novel? Not liking the main character of a non-fiction book. Sadly, this is the case — for me, anyway — with Susan Casey.
The Devil’s Teeth is packed with example of Casey’s putting her own wishes before anything else. She pulls numerous strings to keep returning to the islands despite the political friction it causes, forces Scot and Peter to be responsible for her welfare and safety, and actually hastens the demise of the shark research program. Certainly Scot and Peter are culpable — they knew they were breaking the rules — but somehow it’s easier for me to feel sympathetic toward them.
Casey tries to spin the situation positively — something about the Farallones winning yet another fight against the encroachment of civilization, and Scot and Peter feeling like it was time for a change anyway — but I call bullshit. Great research was being conducted at the Farallones, and it feels like everyone blew it by making stupid decisions.
About the audio
I listened to an abridged version of The Devil’s Teeth narrated by the author and published by Random House. Casey read well, but I wish I’d noticed it was abridged before I started. There was a huge lack of back story when it came to learning more about the researchers’ lives (Do they have families? What do their friends think of their job?), and I’d like to know if that info was something that was edited out for the audio version.
Anyone else read this? Am I being too harsh on Casey or do you agree? Let me know in the comments!