Book Review: The Devil's Teeth
by Susan Casey
Reviewed by Annie Shao, age 17
I am one of the few people I know who loves great white sharks—or as scientists prefer to call them, white sharks. While most people fear their slit-like gills, rows and rows of sharp teeth, and fierce hunting skills, I cannot help but marvel at these fascinating creatures.
While perusing a liquidation sale at a bookstore, I discovered that my shark interest was far from one-of-a-kind. The book The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey boasted the caption, “A true story of obsession and survival among America’s great white sharks.” I instantly thought, “that’s the book for me!”
I paid for it and immediately delved into it. The adventurous journalist Casey reveals in her book the inside story of the Farallon White Shark Project. A group of biologists who study white sharks conduct this project in and around a 211-acre archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.
These unique islands are one of the last truly wild places in the world. Undisturbed by human civilization, wild animals live in abundance on the Farallon Islands. Each year, white sharks mysteriously arrive at the Farallon Islands to feed on a seemingly endless number of elephant seals. Humpback whales and other marine mammals greet the scientists from the waters, while huge flocks of seabirds like murres, cassin’s auklets, and western gulls, visit them from the skies. No humans other than the scientists themselves inhabit the islands. One could call the Farallon Islands one of Earth's last strongholds of rare wildlife.
The book busts many of the myths about white sharks that movies like Jaws help plant in people’s minds. By the time Casey began her documentation, lead biologist Peter Pyle, along with other scientists, had learned through tracking and watching the sharks that they are not the simple-minded killing machines most people assume they are. Scientists conducting this sort of research become very close to the sharks. They usually give them names and note their personalities. A female shark named Whiteslash was known as the “gentle and maternal” one, while a male shark named Cuttail was labeled “cantankerous.”
In her book, Casey also covers some of the difficulties these scientists encounter. First of all, the islands themselves posed problems. The Farallons, known as “the devil’s teeth” to sailors and the “Islands of the Dead” to the Miwok Indians, have a dangerously rocky terrain and are constantly hit by furious storms. One wrong step on the islands’ spiky ground can mean falling into the raging sea. However, the scientists brave the tough conditions for the sake of living with the amazing wildlife.
They also must cope with tourism companies that often disturb the natural life of the sharks. Many whale and shark watching boats practice “chumming,” the act of putting blood and ground fish into the water to attract sharks to eager spectators. This not only triggers the sharks’ instinctive violent behavior brought on by blood, but also disrupts their natural feeding habits. Moreover, the biologists have difficulties convincing people of the importance of their project, especially when competing for private and government funding.
The book includes just enough science to make it a rich non-fiction source. Yet its other aspects, like the adventure and plotline, make the book a great read for any audience. The well-documented shark attacks mentioned in the book make it appealing to a thrill-seeker, while the imagery and emotions woven into the story simultaneously suit a softer audience.
After reading the book I was happy to know that some people care about white sharks even more than I do. The Devil’s Teeth described the scientists’ relationships and work with the sharks in a way that made me feel as if I were on the shores of the rocky Farallon Islands, watching these magnificent animals.