Carcharinus obscurus is the first in a series of books by Zachary Webb Nicholls, also known as “Dr. Jaws,” who is an author, artist, and student at my alma mater, the College of William and Mary. Dr. Jaws plans to focus on a different species of shark in each book in the series, starting with the Dusky Shark, Carcharinus obscurus. Why the Dusky Shark? In an interview, Dr. Jaws said that this species deserves particular attention because “it’s not doing so well, conservation-wise.”
This book is, in a word, unique. It blends art, science, and mythology into a slightly surreal celebration of the Dusky Shark. Dr. Jaws incorporates the shark as an animal and as a cultural icon, but unlike many popular science books, Carcharinus obscurus doesn’t really have an encompassing narrative or message (other than, perhaps, “sharks are amazing, and you should learn more about them.”) The structure of the book could be summed up in a quote from Dr. Jaws: “One day, I started a poem and liked it, and went from there.” In my opinion, it doesn’t need a strict narrative.
Carcharinus obscurus is a very quick read. It weighs in at less than 50 pages, of which pictures and poetry take up a large chunk. The first half of the book drifts from poetry extolling the wonders of Domain Eukarya to drawings and photographs of sharks, inserting keyword ciphers and shark-related factoids along the way. My favorite section of the book is the last one. In the final 20 pages, Dr. Jaws uses a story about a leatherback and a shark-goddess to convey a sense of wonder and reverence toward sharks.
I wanted to create something distinct, something that stands out and grabs attention, because sharks are just so charismatic, and so many people have done something on them… To me, sharks are like living poetry. I naturally have just a strange sense of awe for them. – Dr. Jaws, in an interview
If you are interested in marine life and are searching for something low-key and a little different to peruse, take a look at Carcharinus obscurus.