Book review: Sex in the Sea

If you like dirty jokes about whale junk, we know just the book.

As you know, we at The Fisheries Blog are fascinated with reproductive ecology of fishes. I’ve written articles on multi-species spawning parties and other strange spawning tactics, and Patrick is fascinated with sex-changing clownfish and doubly-endowed sharks.

But Dr. Marah Hardt has us beat. She recently wrote Sex in the Sea, subtitled, Our intimate connection with sex-changing fish, romantic lobsters, kinky squid, and other salty erotica of the deep. I recently took a beach vacation, and brought the book along for some light reading between reef dives.

sex in the sea

First and foremost, this book is hilarious. Each paragraph is packed with delightfully ridiculous one-liners fit for a 7th grade boys’ locker room. Many of Hardt’s insights into the reproductive ecology of marine life may leave you blushing. Plus she starts each chapter with a themed playlist to set the mood. Sex in the sea is sure to keep you entertained.

But don’t let the jokes fool you: this book is 100% science. In very approachable (and sometimes pretty salacious) language, Hardt brings readers decades worth of natural history research on the impressive diversity of marine life—from the largest of whales to microscopic zooplankton. And by interviewing scientists about their ongoing research, she places readers on the cutting edge of marine science. You’ll be surprised at just how much we don’t know about even some of the most common sea creatures.

But Sex in the Sea isn’t just a collection of jaw-dropping facts about outlandish reproductive strategies. It’s a study in both basic biology and conservation. Scientists have long understood that knowledge of an organism’s reproductive ecology is essential for effective conservation and management. For every goofy insight into a species’ reproductive habits, Hardt explicitly describes its importance for conservation and sustainable management. For instance, after a pretty colorful description of how Nassau Grouper get together in massive spawning aggregations, she discusses the implications of designing regulations to protect these aggregations that make large portions of the population extra-vulnerable to over-harvest.

Sex in the sea is #scicomm at its finest. Hardt takes loads of complex facts and terms, and makes them interesting and accessible for the general public. As long as you don’t mind the copious reproductive humor and anthropomorphizing, I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in learning more about the amazing diversity of life in our oceans.

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