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The Secret Life of Fish - The astonishing truth about our aquatic cousins

by Lewis Laney 17 Aug 15:16 UTC

Discover the astonishing truth about our underwater friends: how they think and what they know, their experiences and unique behaviours, and the many things we have in common.

Foreword by Jeremy Wade, presenter of River Monsters and Mighty Rivers, and official fish aficionado.


Colourful, strange, behaviourally complex... no, I'm not talking about birds. (Sorry, birds, but you have whole libraries of books devoted to you.) I'm thinking about those other planetary housemates of ours - more diverse but more mysterious and secretive, and hence widely neglected because they inhabit Earth's flooded basement where we rarely see them. But when we do catch a glimpse, what fantastically varied forms they have! What endless inspiration for study and for art! Which makes this book such a pleasure for me: fish can be seen swimming across the pages on their way from the artist's mind to colonize other human minds. That is the place where, more than ever, they need to have a presence, not just because our ancestors came from the water (as did each of us, individually), but because we still depend on clean, healthy water. So paying attention to fish, and how well they are surviving, is at the very least a matter of self-interest. And I'm particularly pleased to see freshwater fish so well represented here. Rivers and lakes hold a tiny fraction of the world's water (about 0.01 per cent) but fully half of all fish species. Much of this water is dark and cloudy, making its inhabitants hard to find and study. It's also why they're not as pretty as their flaunty cousins around coral reefs. But what they may lack in conventional good looks they make up for in weirdness and other ways... Jump in and enjoy the swim!

Here a few chapter headings to give you a taste for it:


There are more than 33,600 species of fish on this planet, which are grouped into approximately 515 families by taxonomists. This book will introduce you to fifty distinctive fish species, each with its own remarkable story. Some you might be familiar with, but others might be completely new to you - however, they all represent just how important, amazing and intriguing fish can be. The secrets of how their bodies work will be revealed - from their super-senses to their deadly toxins and their ability to give electric shocks. I will show you their strange and often baffling behaviours - explaining how and why they act as they do - and explore the history of how we came to discover their secrets. We'll see just how important a role they play in our lives and the world as a whole. The fifty species featured live everywhere, from the deepest ocean to the shallowest pond, and take the form of giants the size of buses down to those no bigger than your thumb. All of them are important - and all of them reveal how amazing the natural world can be. My accompanying illustrations are not especially scientifically accurate - they're more an attempt to capture the character of each fish. That said, they should still enable you to recognize each one if you come across it on your travels.

Dangerous and deadly

This first chapter features a collection of the more macabre and despotic villains and desperadoes of the fish world, from poisoners to electrocutioners, many armed with spines, swords and even whips. All other fish need to be careful around these well-defended or viciously aggressive species, and some may even endanger humans. And although a few appear rather cute, all of them have a deadly secret up their sleeves.

Miniature marvels

While it may be tempting to be overly impressed by the largest and most fearsome in the world of fish, let's not forget the 'little 'uns'. These smaller species have just as an amazing and wonderful life as their bigger cousins. In this chapter, you will discover life-savers, light-bearers, Hollywood stars and one of the most infamous fish on Earth.

Astounding giants

Water covers around 71 per cent of our planet - and the oceans hold about 96.5 per cent of it - so it is no wonder really, with all that space, that some fish can grow to incredible sizes. None can quite match the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) in size (the biggest animal to ever grace our planet), but that doesn't mean that some species of fish aren't almost as impressive. There are plenty of massive fish species and many have, at some stage in our history, inspired more than their fair share of legends and sea-monster myths. While these are awe-inspiring as fiction, I hope to show that the reality is even more amazing.


Doug Mackay-Hope is Head of Development for BBC's Natural History Unit in Bristol (producers of Planet Earth and Blue Planet II). He has worked directly with David Attenborough. He is a trained biologist having studied at Imperial College in London before moving into television natural history filmmaking. He began his career conceiving and developing BAFTA-winning Big Blue Live and Attenborough & The Giant Dinosaur. His first responsibilities ranged from quirky children's shows that involved deadly animals to a man hunting freshwater monsters in far-flung corners of the world for international hit River Monsters, which helped to feed his fascination with fish.

Pre-order your copy now.

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