Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans' Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter (Paperback)

Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans' Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter By Ellen Prager Cover Image

Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: The Oceans' Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter (Paperback)


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When viewed from a quiet beach, the ocean, with its rolling waves and vast expanse, can seem calm, even serene. But hidden beneath the sea’s waves are a staggering abundance and variety of active creatures, engaged in the never-ending struggles of life—to reproduce, to eat, and to avoid being eaten.

With Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime, marine scientist Ellen Prager takes us deep into the sea to introduce an astonishing cast of fascinating and bizarre creatures that make the salty depths their home. From the tiny but voracious arrow worms whose rapacious ways may lead to death by overeating, to the lobsters that battle rivals or seduce mates with their urine, to the sea’s masters of disguise, the octopuses, Prager not only brings to life the ocean’s strange creatures, but also reveals the ways they interact as predators, prey, or potential mates. And while these animals make for some jaw-dropping stories—witness the sea cucumber, which ejects its own intestines to confuse predators, or the hagfish that ties itself into a knot to keep from suffocating in its own slime—there’s far more to Prager’s account than her ever-entertaining anecdotes: again and again, she illustrates the crucial connections between life in the ocean and humankind, in everything from our food supply to our economy, and in drug discovery, biomedical research, and popular culture.

Written with a diver’s love of the ocean, a novelist’s skill at storytelling, and a scientist’s deep knowledge, Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime enchants as it educates, enthralling us with the wealth of life in the sea—and reminding us of the need to protect it.

Ellen Prager is a marine scientist and author, widely recognized for her expertise and ability to make science entertaining and understandable for people of all ages. She was formerly the chief scientist at the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys, and assistant dean at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Currently, she is a freelance writer, consultant, and science advisor to Celebrity Cruises in the Galapagos Islands.
Product Details ISBN: 9780226678764
ISBN-10: 0226678768
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: April 15th, 2012
Pages: 200
Language: English

 “If you read only one book about the ocean, read this one. Learn and laugh about the astonishing creatures of the sea and discover the connections that all living things share, and realize that trouble for ocean life is trouble for human life. A thoroughly entertaining, sobering, and inspiring must-read for all who care about the future of the sea, and the future of humankind.”

— Sylvia Earle, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

“The ocean is endlessly fascinating and mysterious. With her easy and companionable writing, Ellen Prager conveys a deeply delightful introduction to all kinds of ocean creatures. A great book for beginners and one even experts can learn from and enjoy—this is possibly the best general book ever written on creatures of the deep.”--Carl Safina, author of The View From Lazy Point

— Carl Safina, author of The View From Lazy Point

“The oceans could have no better storyteller than Ellen Prager. Each page leaves you wondering what extraordinary creature or behavior would appear next or how even those that seem the most ordinary have mysteries beyond our imagination. Beyond inspiring wonder, Prager tells why it all matters, from the tiniest to the largest creature, our health, our lives, the economy and our future are interconnected in astonishing ways.”--US Congressman Brian Baird, former chairman of the Energy and Environment subcommittee

— US Congressman Brian Baird, chairman of the Energy and Environment subcommittee

“If humans were mating the way that some sea creatures do, it would be considered mighty kinky. . . . Prager says she didn't realize the extent of the strange sex going on in the oceans until she started researching her new book. . . . The odd creatures she writes about, creatures most of us never heard of, are beneficial to humans in ways most of us don't realize. . . . Parents, if you haven't yet told your children about the birds and the bees, they may not be ready to hear what the ocean's oddest creatures are up to. . . . Wow.”
— Terry Gross

“In my years of diving and reporting below the surface of the sea, Ellen Prager has been the most effective and humorous storyteller about life in the ocean. Here she brings us the strangely well-endowed conch, slime-touting hagfish, transgender parrotfish, and an abundance of slime and sex within the seas. By combining science with humor, she allows more people to learn about the ocean and understand that the lives of animals are not only crucial for our food and fun, but also for our economy and health. You really should read this book, which not only teaches us about the ocean, but also makes it entertaining and gives us ideas about how to save the sea and the wonderful life in it."

— Bob Woodruff, ABC News correspondent

“Prager provides ocean enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds—from Key West to Kalamazoo—with easy to understand and entertaining descriptions of what lies beneath and why all of us should care about marine life. Her work will serve as serious inspiration to all, from the average Joe to the next generation of oceanographers, scientists, and explorers.”

— US Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida

“Fascinating. . . . That's the joy of this book, is all the stuff in here that no one has ever heard about. . . . Certainly enjoyable and a lot of fun to read.”
— Ira Flatow

"Beneath the waves, anything goes, explains marine scientist Prager in her tour of some of the saltier habits of sea life. From the inside-out posture and bioluminescent fireworks of the vampire squid to the mucus deluge that protects the slimy hagfish, she explains how marine critters adopt unusual approaches to sex, predation, and defense. And she explores how these diverse creatures, from krill to the grey whale, are crucial for our food supply, economies, and even drug discovery."
— Nature

“Ellen Prager has produced a fascinating and delightful read about the amazing diversity of life under the sea. She describes a panoply of strange and wondrous creatures in an accessible and non-technical fashion that leaves you shaking your head in wonder. Prager’s book will make you want to head to the nearest shore and jump right in!”

— Lisa Speer, Director of International Oceans Program, Natural Resources Defense Council

"Packed with excellent conversation fodder for your next date, this book details the strange lives and mating rituals of sea creatures. Choose your anecdotes wisely, though: That romantic seafood dinner may become less appetizing once you explain that lobsters use urine during foreplay, or that male octopi copulate with a 'specialized baby-maker arm.'"

— Sierra

"Prager . . . has written another approachable book. The catchy title here is accurate. She discusses reproduction underwater for tiny phytoplankton, sex-changing fish, and more; drugs developed from many organisms, such as anticancer drugs from sponges; and the advantages of slime for hiding, protecting, or attacking. About a third of each chapter covers why we should care about the ocean and its inhabitants, which echoes Prager's message in The Oceans (written with Sylvia A. Earle). The overriding theme is that we should learn about the ocean and take care of it. Prager has humor and surprises. . . . The title might attract readers from teens to adults, and the relaxed writing style and fun facts will encourage them to keep reading and learn why to help protect the oceans and their inhabitants."
— Library Journal

"There is no shortage of fascinating candidates for Prager's celebration of the oceans' most bizarre creatures. Among those making an appearance in Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime you will find the ferocious sand tiger shark, which attacks and kills its siblings while still in its mother's womb; the barreleye fish that sports tubular eyes within a transparent head; and the queen conch, a snail that is endowed with a penis half the length of its body. Prager makes a case for each animal's unique value to humankind."
— New Scientist

"The ocean may look lifeless from the deck of a ship, but under the water live many creatures large and small. In the past, writers have claimed there was an abundance of life in the seas, but marine scientist Prager reports that overfishing, pollution, and global warming have already taken a great toll on marine life. She hopes there is still time to save ocean creatures, for their sake and ours. The problem is getting people to care, and to do so they must be aware of the diversity and value of marine life. In this introduction to ocean life, Prager briefly describes an array of creatures, starting with microscopic diatoms, copepods, and plankton and thematically progressing through rare, dangerous, and slow-developing invertebrates, fishes, birds, and marine mammals. Aiming to entertain as well as teach, she often focuses on oddities and strange behaviors. Her detailed observations will be most appreciated by natural-history readers."

— Booklist

"A tastefully scandalous tour of defensive secretions and extreme sexual flexibility backs up a plea for ocean conservation."
— Science News

"I would love to deep-sea dive. I had my chance with Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime. . . . Readers meet the entire cast of known sea oddities and discover why they matter to us."
— Christian Science Monitor

“A treasure trove of facts, relating to the awe-inspiring but less familiar monsters and creatures of the deep. The prevalence of the use of mucous, the intriguing variety of reproduction mechanisms, and inspiring use of chemical defenses make this an entertaining read. The book provides a rich description of some fascinating varieties of underwater life and how they are essential within ecosystems, as well as the range of anthropocentric values and uses that are attached to them.”
— The Biologist

"Prager plumbs the depths for strange or marvelous organisms, first wowing us with their weirdness and then reeling us in with their worth--be it culinary, medicinal, biotechnological, or recreational. Her exuberant writing reveals a personal enthrallment with her protagonists. She’s the perfect guide for an undersea exploration."

— Audubon Magazine

"Prager plumbs the depths for strange or marvelous organisms, first wowing us with their weirdness and then reeling us in with their worth—be it culinary, medicinal, biotechnological, or recreational. Her exuberant writing reveals a personal enthrallment with her protagonists. She’s the perfect guide for an undersea exploration."

— Audubon Magazine