There’s a cluster of islands in the Pacific, only about 30 miles from San Francisco, that happens to be an annual gathering place for great white sharks. This rocky outcrop of islands is called the Farallones, and if you want to study sharks, these islands have no equal. There isn’t another place on the globe where you can see so many sharks in their natural habitat.
Now, there are a few curveballs for the average shark watcher. First, the sharks only show up from about September through November. Second, access to the islands is severely restricted by the government. And finally, it’s a particularly inhospitable place beset with nasty weather and a cliff-like shoreline that makes getting on the islands from a boat very difficult.
However, this did not stop Susan Casey from becoming obsessed with the Farallones. She was sitting at home one night and caught a BBC special about the two scientists that were performing groundbreaking shark research on the islands. She was hooked immediately and began scheming to get to the Farallones to be close to these awesome creatures.
Let me tell you a little about Susan Casey. She’s a writer, lives in Manhattan, and spent much of her life as a competitive swimmer. She likes REI outdoor gear, Gucci heels, and Patagonia capilene underwear – size small. Hey, that’s what she said.
She starts out getting a one day pass to the islands. She likes it so much that she pushes and finagles a couple of longer stays on the islands. She befriends Peter and Scott, the ultra-cool scientists that are superstars in the shark world, who willingly assist her in her efforts to spend even more time near the sharks of the Farallones. After the government steps in to mediate a nasty feud between the researchers and some tour operators, access to the islands gets even more restrictive. But the scientists and Susan concoct a plan to stay on a borrowed yacht off the coast of the Farallones since she is expressly forbidden from setting foot on the islands. Ah, not a good idea. It’s about this time that Casey ceases to be the athletic, attractive, writer-adventurer and turns into a whiny outsider that really starts who may start to grate on your nerves.
So yes, I eventually became disinterested in the trials and travails of Susan Casey. But, there’s still a lot of great stuff in this book. The shark lore and history of the islands is fascinating. These creatures, especially the great whites, captivated me throughout. Casey does a great job of vividly describing the people and scenery, and these descriptions give this story some heart and soul.