The following article appeared in Bluewater magazine, an Australia-based publication that many regard as the best gamefishing magazine in the world. The article is written b y Julian Pepperell, a marine biologist who is a leading authority on marlin, sailfish, tuna, and sharks. Julian authored the book Fishes of the Open Ocean, which was illustrated by Guy.
Fishes of the Open Ocean: The inside story
The idea for a book on the pelagic fish of the world came about many years ago. In giving talks at numerous fishing clubs and spending countless hours on board game fishing boats around the world, it became clear to me that anglers have an unquenchable thirst for information on these fabulous fishes and the world in which they dwell. No existing book covered this topic, and having spent a fair chunk of my life studying and reading about these fish, I figured it couldn’t be that hard to produce a book that would help to satisfy at least some of this curiosity.
The early, modest plan was to write a field guide to the marine gamefish of the Pacific – a typical ‘fish book’ with a paragraph or two on each species of fish and some notes on how to identify them. Of course, these things have a way of growing, so pretty soon, the plan was to encompass all of the marine gamefish of the world, and then – heck, why not add in all those other fish species that make up the ecosystem of the surface of the open ocean? Sure, why not? And so, the working title, Fishes of the Open Ocean was born.
It is one thing to dream up an idea for a book, but entirely another to convince a publisher that this will be a viable project. That quest took two full years, but with the well respected UNSW Press deciding to go ahead with the idea, the task had finally begun. From that moment, every research cruise, every fishing trip, every visit to a fish market in an exotic location and every conference I attended added to my store of information and ideas for the book. And it wasn’t as if this obsession was over a short time period either. From go to whoa, seven years elapsed between signing the contract on the dotted line and holding the 3.3 lb. tome in my hot little hands.
Many things happened during that time that made this a very different (and I hope, better) book to what might have been written in the first few years of the project. One of these was the explosion in knowledge about many pelagic fish that has taken place since the late 1990s, thanks to the advent of data-storing and popup satellite tags. Hundreds of tuna and billfishes were being tagged all over the world with these mini computers, and the results were rapidly rewriting what we know, not only about their migrations but also about their behaviour, including their amazing abilities to dive to depths never before thought possible. Happily, much of this information is now incorporated into the book.
“Over 90,000 words packed into 266 pages, covering 170 species of fish, copiously illustrated with Guy Harvey’s masterful paintings”
The other fortuitous event that changed the way the book would appear visually was one of those rare but happy coincidences that, well, just happen. I was on a trip to the Great Barrier Reef to tag black marlin with popup satellite tags (yes, I know, it’s a hard job, but someone has to do it) and sharing the mothership was none other than Guy Harvey, filming for one of his excellent television series. Guy and I had known each other since the mid-1980s (not many know that Guy has a Ph.D in marine science), and one evening, over a few drinks, we got to talking about my book. Guy listened to my outline of the contents, looked at some material on my trusty laptop computer, thought for a while, and said “how would you like me to paint all of the fish species especially for the book?” It also happened that Guy’s good friend, diver, photographer, raconteur and now, fellow Bluewater columnist, Bill Boyce, was accompanying him on the trip. Bill’s underwater photos of billfish, tuna and sharks are legendary, so when he also offered to help with his images, I could only pour another round of drinks and raise a glass to both of them. (It would be remiss of me not to mention marine artist Craig Smith here. Craig helped enormously by providing much conceptual artwork to help ‘sell’ the book to potential publishers, and for that, I am very grateful).
And so it happened, with Guy’s usual dedication to all projects he undertakes, that he did indeed complete this herculean task, producing 125 beautiful paintings that grace the pages of the book – classic lateral views of each species, and all done with an eye for detail of the natural colours and characteristics of each. Guy also supplied many of his beautiful panoramic action paintings of billfish which are used throughout, and Bill Boyce, true to his word, sent his best photos, one of which was chosen as the cover for the book.
The writing of a book doesn’t end with sending off the manuscript to the publisher and then sitting back and waiting for it to appear in bookshops. The work was reviewed by at least six international scientists, then edited in exquisite detail by a copy editor before heading for the design phase. This is where the ‘look of the book’ takes shape, a process in which I was able to take part, and in so doing, realised how much work is involved in that important part of production.
The end result of all those years of fun, hard work and roller coaster rides is a book of which I don’t mind saying I am very proud. Over 90,000 words packed into 266 pages, covering 170 species of fish, copiously illustrated with Guy Harvey’s masterful paintings and enhanced by hundreds of some of the best underwater photos of the fish in their environment. How could I not be pleased?
But what I am especially thrilled about is the way that the book has been embraced by the game fishing community. Because, while the book is aimed at a general audience of those who might be interested in the marine world, it was especially written for all of you anglers out there, constantly wondering about and enthralled with the reason you all go out to sea in the first place. The fabulous Fishes of the Open Ocean. Which seems a good cue to quote from the opening chapter of the book:
“The fishes of the open ocean depicted and described in these pages include the largest fishes on the planet – the whale shark, the basking shark and the manta ray. They also include the largest bony fishes in the world – the oceanic sunfish, the blue marlin, the black marlin and the Atlantic bluefin tuna. Some species, such as the streamlined wahoo and the sailfish, swim faster than any others while several of the billfishes and tunas and sharks make regular trans-oceanic, or even inter ocean journeys. Some of these fishes, such as the skipjack tuna, are among the most prolific fish species on earth, supporting huge commercial fisheries that supply millions of people with affordable protein. The fishes of the open ocean are indeed superlative in many ways. Welcome to their world.”
I’m pleased to say that the book has proven to be a success already. It won the presigious ‘Whitley Award’ for the best book on Natural History published in 2010, and was shortlisted for the Queensland Premiers’ Literary Awards in the category of ‘Science Writing’. The first edition hard cover sold out quickly (although you might be lucky and still be able to find a copy on the shelves of a bookshop here and there) and as a result, a second, slightly revised edition is now available. This has a softer cover, and is ideal as a reference on board game boats, alongside all those well-thumbed copies of Bluewater magazine.
There are also two very special Limited Editions of the book available. Both are hand-bound in 100% genuine calf leather, with special bound-in book plates numbered and personally signed by myself and Guy Harvey. The standard Limited Edition is limited to 250 copies. The Premium Limited Edition includes two hand painted tuna by Guy Harvey on the bookplate, and is limited to just 50 copies. And because Guy has varied the species depicted, and their positions on the page, each of the 50 copies of the Premium Edition is completely unique!
All editions of Fishes of the Open Ocean are available from Guy Harvey Art.