Review of Mission Blue Documentary about Dr. Sylvia Earle

On August 15, 2014, Netflix began streaming a biographical documentary on Dr. Sylvia Earle called “Mission Blue.” Sylvia is the pre-eminent oceanographer of our time. She has logged over 7,000 hours underwater, and even walked beneath the ocean untethered to 1,250 feet! She is often called “Her Deepness.”

I have admired Sylvia for most of my life, as she once spoke at my elementary school close to where she lives in Oakland, California. I have read biographies of Sylvia, but none compare to this documentary. It covers her whole life, from growing up in New Jersey (where she was free to romp in the woods), to moving to Florida at age 12 (where she fell in love with the ocean), to today where she is a crusader against all the atrocities facing our oceans today. It not only covers her professional life, but it touches on her personal life including three marriages (and divorces) and being a working mother when it was not common. All women scientists today owe gratitude to Sylvia for blazing a trail on her way through a sexist society. She was often the only woman on an expedition and she endured headlines such as “Sylvia sails away with 70 men,” and for her time with five other aquanauts living underwater, the headline read, “6 women and only one hairdryer.”

Like her terrestrial counterpart, Dr. Jane Goodall, Sylvia travels up to 300 days a year. She is spreading a message of hope for the oceans and often says, “No Blue; No Green. No Oceans; No Us.” The oceans are the Earth’s life support system. They produce oxygen from marine plants, and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The oceans are the life blood of the planet.

I highly recommend “Mission Blue” for anyone who streams movies through Netflix. You will not only learn about Sylvia’s amazing life, from her first set of SCUBA gear, to the deep sea submersibles she has help built, but also about the many changes happening to our ocean environment. There are breath-taking segments showing the ocean in all its beauty and splendor. It can be depressing at times, like seeing the sharks being finned alive, but overall the theme is “ocean optimism.” Sylvia recommends designating “Hope Spots” around the globe. In fact this was her TED wish in 2009. Less than 3% of the ocean is protected, compared to 12% of land that is protected. Sylvia’s wish is coming true, though she would like 20% of the ocean to be protected by 2020!

Book Review “The Death and Life of Monterey Bay” by Stephen Palumbi & Carolyn Sotka

by Stephen Palumbi
The Death and Life of Monterey Bay

I just came across this in my notebook, written 3 years ago! The review is a relevant today as it was years ago, though. Here’s my book review:

“The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival” was a perfect book for me, as a scientist, and as a “history-was-one-of –my-worst-subjects-at-school” kind of person. I worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for 2 years, and I have lived in both Monterey and Pacific Grove, California. I always meant to read John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row,” but never got around to it.

I had known that marine animals were historically exploited in Monterey Bay. Now I know the exact order: sea otters for their luxurious fur, whales for their oil, abalone for their tasty foot, sea urchins because there was nothing else left, and finally the sardines.

I had heard about China Point from my Asian American History class, but I hadn’t known the details of how the Chinese prospered from selling abalone and then squid, only to be forced out because of racism.

I loved being introduced to the former mayor of Pacific Grove, Julia Platt. I would have loved to have met her. She was a marine biologist before women were “allowed” into science at universities. She was outspoken about the affairs of Pacific Grove, and she had the foresight to create the equivalent of a Marine Protected Area off the shores of Pacific Grove.

It was interesting to finally “meet” Ed Ricketts, whom I only knew wrote the book “Between Pacific Tides,” a textbook that was required in my first Marine Biology class. He was quite a character along with his now famous friends, Joseph Campbell and John Steinbeck.

I always love scientists, like Ed Ricketts, who don’t follow the rules of academia. For instance, Jane Goodall started studying chimpanzees without a formal university degree (she later got one). She also named and empathized with her subjects, something scientists are not supposed to do.

Ed Ricketts wasn’t into quantitative data, as he was interested in seeing the big picture. He also saw how the ecology of tide pools fits in with the philosophy of life.

Next time I’m in Pacific Grove, I feel like I should pay a visit to Julia Platt’s old house at 557 Ocean View Boulevard, which is now a bed and breakfast inn, and see her plaque at Lover’s Point.

In short, I highly recommend “The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: a Story of Revival” to natural history lovers, and especially those who have fallen in love with the charm and natural beauty of the Monterey Bay area.
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Book Review: Surf Sharks, the First Ride

Surf Sharks: The First Ride book
Surf Sharks by Chance and Shelley Wolf

Surf Sharks: The First Ride is written by Shelley Wolf and illustrated by Chance Wolf.

Surf Sharks: The First Ride is a charming grade-school book about 3 boys who are surfers. They end up befriending 3 sharks right before a surfing contest. They all meet because one of the sharks becomes entangled in the net placed around a beach. This net is designed to keep out sharks. I like how this book brings to light how shark nets are can be detrimental to sharks and other wildlife.

The boys rescue one of the sharks, and the sharks in turn rescue one of the boys. The boys’ surfboards get destroyed, and surprise, the sharks volunteer to be their surf boards. I won’t give away the ending, but it is satisfying and is what is expected.

In all, I like how this book paints sharks in a positive light, and throws in a few educational details, like what denticles on a shark are. I really like the colorful cartoon illustrations, as they complement the story.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book for any grade school age kid, especially those who likes sharks.

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Book Review: Beautiful Whale by Bryant Austin

book Beautiful Whale
Beautiful Whale by Bryant Austin

If I had to describe Bryant Austin’s book, “Beautiful Whale,” in one word, it would be *amazing*. Just looking at the photographs of whales up close is enough to make you go wow, but his accounts of how he got the pictures are just as awe-inspiring.

Austin’s visually stunning oversized coffee table book is based on the life-sized pictures he takes of whales. Taking photographs so close and in so much detail is much easier said than done. He must be within 6 feet of a whale, and he patiently waits for the whale to come to him. He also uses a large state-of-the-art 50 megapixel Hasselblad camera.

Austin’s epiphany to photograph whales came after a female humpback whale gently tapped him on the shoulder with her 15 foot, 2 ton pectoral fin (front flipper). Austin had been interacting with her calf and the ever-watchful mom wanted Austin to know that she was watching him. Austin describes the moment as seeing the “calm mindful expression of a whale’s eye looking into my own eyes.” Little did that whale know the path she would send Austin down!

In perusing the book the first time, I was awestruck by the details in each picture. Not only were the eyes soulful, but every pockmark, birthmark, and scratch told their own story about that whale. Austin covers 3 different kinds of whales in this book: the humpback whale, the sperm whale, and the minke whale.

I was privileged enough to attend Austin’s gallery showing of “Beautiful Whale” at the Museum of Monterey in Monterey, California (it runs until September 2, 2013). Although I could have spent hours staring at his life-size and length whale photographs, I only had a few minutes to indulge them with 2 young children in tow. I did take a picture of them with Enigma, a sperm whale, and of course I couldn’t get the whole 20 foot long whale in one frame!

The most amazing part of Austin’s encounters with the whales is that he waits patiently until they approach him. The results are worth his patience, but there are not many among us that could wait weeks to get the prize-winning shots.

I had first heard of Austin when I read about how he first showed his work in whaling countries like Japan and Norway. His work was well received, and this speaks volumes for the power Austin’s photographs have.

If you are a whale or animal lover, you must check out this book. Even if you are neither, I promise that at least one picture in his book will move you.

Check out Bryant Austin’s website

Visit Austin’s exhibit at the Museum of Monterey (MOM), open until January 2, 2014

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