Sea Otter II IX-53 - History

Sea Otter II IX-53 - History

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Sea Otter II

(IX-53: dp. 1,941; 1. 254'; b. 38'; dr. 10'2"; cpl. 15)

Sea Otter 11 was launched on 23 August 1941 by the Levingston Shipbuilding Co., Orange, Tex.; sponsored by Mrs. Eads Johnson, wife of the designer, acquired by the Navy on 26 September 1941 and placed in service on 26 October 1941.

Sea Otter 11 proceeded to the Charleston Navy Yard on 26 October 1941, arriving on 2 November. After completion of voyage repairs, Sea Otter 11 got underway for sea trials on 4 November.

Constructed during the height of enemy submarine attacks along the Atlantic coast, Sea Otter 11 was designed to allow torpedoes to pass beneath her shallow draft. The draft, however, proved to be almost twice the amount expected, and her I6 unmuffled gasoline engines would be noisy enough to alert any submarine in the area.

Consequently, Sea Otter II, like her predecessor the 80' shallow draft Sea Otter 1, was destined for little use. She remained at Charleston until being placed out of service on 28 May 1942. On 26 June, she was transferred to the War Shipping Administration, subsequently transferred to Cargoes, Incorporated, and struck from the Navy list on 8 May 1946.

Sea Otter

T he sea otter, Enhydra lutris, is about three feet long, with a tail that adds approximately one more foot to its length. In shape it is like a river otter, which is slightly smaller in body but has a longer tail. Both animals have webbed feet, though the back feet of the sea otter are enormous by comparison, which is important for its life in the ocean. Before intense hunting the sea otter spent part of its life on land, but that behavior was changed so that it rarely is seen ashore, a case where humans altered the behavior of an animal in a drastic way. (1. Peter Matthiessen, Wildlife in America. New York: Viking, 1987, pp. 1-4-5.) Both river and sea otters are a rich brown color, but the head and neck of the sea otter are a tawny yellowish or grayish color. Habitat separates the two. The river otter’s range is widespread (over the interior of North America, for example) and the sea otter’s range is restricted to rocky shores with kelp beds from the Aleutians to northern California. (2. William H. Burt and Richard P. Grossenheider, A Field Guide to the Mammals of all North American species found North of Mexico. 3rd edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976. pp. 60-63 plate 5).

In the seventeenth century, sea otter were found from Japan to the Kurile Islands, in Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands, in Alaska southward to Baja California. The history of the sea otter was well summarized in A Field Guide to the Mammals as follows: “Fur formerly extremely valuable and ruthlessly sought after. Once thought to be extinct, it is now increasing in numbers. Abalone fisherman begrudge the few abalones eaten by this interesting mammal.”(3. Ibid., p. 63). These three sentences by William H. Burt and Richard P. Grossenheider summarize the past and present of this animal which escaped extinction only by accident. What happened?

First the fur. The early peoples who lived in the Kurile Islands, Kamchatka, the Aleutians and in the places along the coasts of North America inhabited by sea otters did not value the sea otters particularly. The meat of the animals was not tasty the fur was not warm or waterproof. The sea otter fur was used for decoration. Sometime in the seventeenth century a trade in sea otter developed between the Kurile Islands and China. The Chinese prized the luscious fur of the sea otter for its beauty. When Russian fur hunters (promyshlenniki) came to eastern Siberia in the mid-seventeenth century in their pursuit of sable, the trade in sea otter already existed. The Russian hunters sent the sable, fox, squirrel, etc. back to western Russia where it was traded to western Europe. They hunted along the rivers, trading with and taking tribute from the local inhabitants, in a system of trade dominated by forts erected at key points along the river systems. The weapons of the promyshlenniki quelled any resistance that the disunited, sparse populations of the areas could offer.

The Russian sea otter trade began as a continuation of trade in other furs. In 1697 Peter the Great declared the sable trade to be a monopoly of the government in the same year, searching for new sources for sable, Russian hunters began their conquest of Kamchatka. The people of Kamchatka — the Itelmen — were not able to drive the Russians out, but the route from the mainland was long and hard, and the hostile Chukchi and Koraks in the north made the 2000 mile journey from Anadyrsk hazardous for Russians. (4. James Forsyth, A History of the Peoples of Siberia: Russia’s North Asian Colony 1581-1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 131-33).

In 1714 Peter ordered that a route by sea (700 miles) should be discovered. Sable for the European market was not the only prize, for the seas around Kamchatka were the home of the sea otter. So early in the eighteenth century Russians in Kamchatka were involved in the sea otter trade to China. In 1689 the Russians and Chinese settled their eastern border along the Amur River, and formal trade between the countries was established. The Chinese wanted sea otter furs the Russians now could supply them. Peter the Great was interested in Siberia, not only for trade with China. So, he sent parties of explorers there.

Russian Navy officers Vitus Bering, Martin Spanberg, and Alexi I. Chirikov were sent on an expedition to Siberia by Peter the Great shortly before his death in January 1725. This was the First Kamchatka Expedition. Later these three were charged with the Second Kamchatka Expedition, which had as its purposes the mapping of the entire arctic coast of Russia, the discovery of sea routes to Japan and America, and the cataloging of information about the land and peoples of Siberia. For the sea otter trade, the voyages made by Bering and Chirikov to America in 1741 are important. Their two ships were separated, but both reached America. In trying to make a landing, Chirikov lost both of his ship’s boats, and thus had no way of obtaining fresh water. He returned to Kamchatka late in 1741, with difficulty. Bering and his crew had an even worse time, but did explore and map some of the coast and islands of North America. Then Bering headed west, under terrible conditions. The sailors suffered from scurvy and could not work the ship. At last, seeing land that they hoped was Kamchatka they headed for it and were shipwrecked. The place was the uninhabited Bering Island, of the Commander Islands, where Bering and many others died during the winter. In the spring the survivors built a small ship and sailed home, carrying with them a stock of 900 sea otter pelts. The value of this fur was enough to pay the expenses of the entire Second Kamchatka Expedition and set off the Russian fur trade rush to America. (5. ftn.).

From 1742 onward Russians sailed to the east. Initially the voyages were short and the men joined in loose companies for a single voyage. After the sea otter were depleted in the Commander Islands, the voyages were longer, and as sea otter were hunted out of the western Aleutians the voyages became longer still, three to five years usually. Thus the arrangements for companies became more complex. Russian government either met the hunters at their return or sent along agents to ensure collection of the government’s share. The Aleuts could not repell the intruders, who had guns and took hostages to force the Aleuts to hunt sea otter. The hunters claimed the islands for Russia and collected tribute from the Aleuts as well. As the sea otter were hunted out of the islands the hunters moved to the mainland and southward to northern California.

The Russians had the trade to themselves until the voyage of Captain James Cook to the North Pacific in the 1770s. During the voyage Cook charted the coast of North America searching for a Northwest Passage and he also visited Kamchatka and the Aleutian Islands. During the voyage the English received some sea otter pelts for trade goods they had no idea of their value until they stopped in China on their way home. The prices the Chinese paid for them nearly led to a near mutiny, for the sailors wanted to return for more sea otter and make their fortunes.

The sea otter trade continued, with the Americans and other Europeans contesting with Russia over it. The depletion of the sea otter in the mid-nineteenth century may have led to Russia’s sale of Alaska in 1867. The slaughter of sea otter continued, now by Americans. In 1911 an international treaty was made against killing sea otter. (Wild Animals of North America. Washington: National Geographic Society, 1960, p. 189). Because so few sea otter remained it was assumed that they would not survive. In 1938 biologists were astounded to see a group near Carmel, California, which was the beginning of the restoration of the southern sea otter.

In the north Japanese poachers threatened to finish off the few remaining animals in the Aleutians. Then came World War II, and the Japanese attack on the Aleutian Islands. The United States established its military presence in the islands which accomplished what no law had been able to do — stopped the hunting completely. The sea otter has made a slow but steady recovery, and is now re-established in several of the Aleutian Islands. One good place to see them is at and near Monterey, California. The sea otter is rare, but there are enough of these fine animals to cause abalone fishermen to protest in some areas! They deserve a few abalones in exchange for seeing these delightful animals, which swim on their backs, and are quite tame. Sea otter are also tool-using animals, and you can watch them as they swim with a stone on their stomachs, which they use to crack abalone shells. The sea otter is one of the animals that changed history, and in doing so nearly became extinct.

And Now You Know: USS Sea Otter II (IX-53), A good idea but not practical

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 26, 2019

By the end of the 1930s, it was evident that war was coming. The rapid rise of the Nazi party in Germany was alarming the rest of the world. At some point, to some degree, America would be involved.

One day, in February 1939, two men having lunch began to exchange ideas about ways to ship war supplies to Britain.

Commander Hamilton Bryan, USN (Ret.) and Warren Noble, an automotive engineer for Chrysler, came up with the idea for a very shallow draft bulk cargo ship. Their idea was a ship that had a shallow draft would be hard for German submarines to torpedo. The ship should be small enough to be built in inland shipyards and able to go to sea from rivers and ship channels.

The U.S. Navy was not interested in the project and refused to participate in the development.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was most interested.

Roosevelt had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920. He was an avid supporter of anything naval. He was able to use his political acumen to persuade Britain to order the first ship for a price of $350,000.

None of the major shipyards wanted to undertake the project. It was a type of ship that had never been built and there was a 90 day deadline for construction of the ship.

Levingston Shipyard in Orange took on the project. Eads Johnson, a noted marine architect, was assigned to the project to design the ship.

Johnson’s design was for a shallow draft ship that would carry 1,500 tons of dry or bulk cargo. The ship would be fully welded from steel plates that were made on rolling machines. She would have a high flanged bow, a small bridge, and low hatches.

Levingston had extensive experience in steel hull welding due to the shipyard having built numerous steel barges and tugboats.

The powerplant of the ship would be comprised of sixteen 110 horsepower gasoline engines. (Navy records state that the engines were GM 6-17 engines. Another source states that they were Chrysler engines.)

Sea Otter II under construction in Levingston Shipyard

Levingston had 250 employees and put all of them on a 24/7 work schedule until the ship was completed.

Completed a few days short of the deadline, the ship was 254 feet long with a beam, or width, of 38 feet. The draft was 10 feet two inches, deeper than expected. The hull displacement was 1,941 tons. Her speed was not recorded, she had no armament. She only required a crew of 15.

The ship was launched on August 23, 1941. She was christened the USS Sea Otter II (IX-53) by Mrs. Eads Johnson, the sponsor of the ship and wife of the designer.

After completion, she was acquired by the U.S. Navy on September 26. The Sea Otter II arrived at the Charleston Navy Yard on November 2 and went out for sea trials November 4.

The Navy was not impressed. The major problem was that the 16 gasoline engines were unmuffled. The engine noise made it almost impossible to conduct conversations on the deck. The engines were so loud that their noise carried an unbelievably long distance over the ocean making it easy for an enemy submarine to home in on the location of the ship by the loud noise.

Due to the 24/7 work schedule and the lack of completed drawings when the work on the ship started, the total cost of the ship had been $550,000. This was more than the Navy thought acceptable.

Critics called the ship “The Stinker” and famous columnist Walter Lippmann wrote several critical articles. He argued that in wartime there was no justification for experimentation of such a radically new idea.

The small shallow draft vessel lacked technical support and political support, especially from the Navy. As a result, no other ships of this class were ever built and the ship was never used as intended. She was taken out of service on May 28, 1942, at Charleston and transferred to the War Shipping Administration.

On December 2, 1942, she was sold to the Pan American Steam Ship Corporation of Panama for $15,000 “as is where is.” The final disposition of the ship is unknown.

Regardless of the negatives of the project, the unusual design and completion time of fewer than 90 days gave Levingston Shipyard a national reputation of being a “Can-Do” shipyard.


Byrum, J. Otters. SeaWorld Education Department Publication. San Diego. SeaWorld, Inc. 1997.

Jefferson, T.J. Leatherwood, S. and M.A. Webber. FAO Species identification Guide. Marine Mammals of the World. Rome. FAO, 1993.

Nowak, Ronald M. (ed.). Walker's Mammals of the World. Vol. II. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

Parker, S. (ed.). Grizmek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. Vol. IV. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., 1990.

IV. Current Sea Otter Protections

Now that we know and understand the various threats the sea otters are facing, it seems important to next take a look at what protections are already in place and what actions are being taken to reduce these threats. Besides the already discussed Fur seal treaty of 1911, MMPA of 1972, ESA addition of 1977, and California’s recently passed bill (AB 2485), sea otters have enjoyed other federal protections along with various local and state protections afforded to them recently.

A. Southern California Sea Otter Protections

The most recent federal protection of southern sea otters is the “Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act,” which was created by the first session of the 108 th Congress in 2003. [57] The assorted protection afforded to southern sea otters under this act can be found in section 3 (a) (1)-(5) of the act and include: 1) monitoring, 2) protection, 3) reduction/elimination of harmful factors, 4) assessment of health, and 5) education and outreach. The southern sea otter is also listed as a “fully protected mammal” in the state of California. [58] Its full protection stems from several California statutes and agencies including the Marine Resources Protection act of 1990, chapter 7.4 Oil Spill Response and Contingency Plan, and the California Code Fish and Game Division. [59] Other more recent protections which California has provided for its sea otter population include shutting down the Monterey Bay set-gillnet fishery for halibut and angel shark on September 11, 2000. [60]

B. Northern Alaskan Sea Otter Protections

Whereas the southern California sea otter seems to be sufficiently protected the northern Alaskan sea otter is in serious need of help. Not only does it not have any specific state protection, it also lacks listing as either endangered or even threatened under the ESA of 1973. Because of the absence of protection, the Alaskan sea otter population, the largest population in the world, has fallen from an estimated 55,000-73,700 individuals in 1985 to as few as 6,000 in the year 2000. [61] Various attempts have been made to list the northern Alaskan sea otter on the ESA, including the Center for Biological Diversity filing two formal administrative petitions, three notice letters, and finally a lawsuit in December 2003, challenging the agency for failing to take any action to protect the endangered sea otter population. [62] Finally, on February 9, 2004, the Bush administration proposed listing the northern sea otter as a threatened species under the ESA. [63] The difficulty which it took to list the northern sea otter on the ESA came as no surprise since all 21 species that the Bush administration has protected were the result of court orders. [64]

The Exxon Valdez captain’s conviction is overturned

The Alaska court of appeals overturns the conviction of Joseph Hazelwood, the former captain of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez. Hazelwood, who was found guilty of negligence for his role in the massive oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989, successfully argued that he was entitled to immunity from prosecution because he had reported the oil spill to authorities 20 minutes after the ship ran aground.

The Exxon Valdez accident on the Alaskan coast was one of the largest environmental disasters in American history and resulted in the deaths of 250,000 sea birds, thousands of sea otters and seals, hundreds of bald eagles and countless salmon and herring eggs. The ship, 1,000 feet long and carrying 1.3 million barrels of oil, ran aground on Bligh Reef on March 24, 1989, after failing to return to the shipping lanes, which it had maneuvered out of to avoid icebergs. It later came to light that several officers, including Captain Hazelwood, had been drinking at a bar the night the Exxon Valdez left port. However, there wasn’t enough evidence to support the notion that alcohol impairment had been responsible for the oil spill. Rather, poor weather conditions and preparation, combined with several incompetent maneuvers by the men steering the tanker, were deemed responsible for the disaster. Captain Hazelwood, who had prior drunk driving arrests, had a spotless record as a tanker captain before the Valdez accident.

Exxon compounded the environmental problems caused by the spill by not beginning the cleanup effort right away. In 1991, a civil suit resulted in a billion-dollar judgment against them. However, years later, while their appeal remained backlogged in the court system, Exxon still hadn’t paid the damages.

The Exxon Valdez was repaired and had a series of different owners before being bought by a Hong Kong-based company, which renamed it the Dong Fang Ocean. It once again made headlines in November 2010 when it collided with another cargo ship off of China.


It&rsquos not legal to possess songbird feathers, so I can&rsquot keep that beautiful cobalt-blue Steller jay feather I found. Considering that 150 years ago, snowy egrets and trumpeter swans were nearly hunted to extinction for their feathers, it understandable that efforts were made to protect birds. At least 50 North American bird species were targeted for the millinery trade &ndash feathers and wings used to adorn hats. The Migratory Bird Act, passed in 1918, applies to a wide range of birds, migratory or not. Hawks, eagles and owls were not included in the original act but are protected today by subsequent laws. It also protects eggs and nests.

&ldquoIn general, you can&rsquot possess or sell bird feathers,&rdquo Whisler said. &ldquoWith some exceptions &ndash you&rsquore a hunter and you have lawfully harvested a bird during hunting season, a hunter can keep those feathers. Upland game birds are not federally regulated, so ptarmigan, grouse are okay &ndash you can pick up all the grouse feathers you want.&rdquo

That&rsquos true of birds like pheasants, quail and chukars, in states that have them. It&rsquos legal to have feathers from domestic birds like chickens or peacocks, and birds that are legal to keep as pets, like canaries, pigeons and parakeets. A link to the &ldquoclean list&rdquo for legal pets in Alaska is at the end.

The feathers from lawfully hunted waterfowl are legal to own, use, possess, or transport, Whisler said. &ldquoYou can&rsquot sell them. Importing and exporting is tricky. There are some exceptions &ndash feathers from lawfully hunted waterfowl like ducks and geese can be sold for fly tying.&rdquo Importing and exporting questions should be answered by the wildlife inspection office in Anchorage at 907-271-6198.

The Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program recently issued a flyer called &ldquoCollecting dead marine mammal parts while beachcombing.&rdquo It details the three things you need to know regarding marine mammals: your ethnicity the land ownership (and your responsibility to know any removal restrictions and the population status, under the Endangered Species Act, of the marine mammal you find. Once those details are clear, it&rsquos pretty easy. You can download the free PDF and learn more from Sea Grant.

Birds and other animals that may be kept as pets or livestock in Alaska

USFWS Law Enforcement: For questions about migratory birds, raptors, songbirds, walrus, polar bear and sea otter

USFWS parts registration: 800-362-5148

NMFS Law Enforcement: For questions about seals, sea lions, whales and porpoises, and to register parts.

Below are links to the FWS-specific federal regulations for migratory bird hunting and marine mammals, providing more precise language.

For marine mammals (see 50 CFR 18.26 for beach-found parts)

For migratory bird hunting (see 50 CFR 20.91 and 20.92 for use of feathers)

Riley Woodford is the editor of Alaska Fish and Wildlife News. He began collecting skulls and bones as a biology major in the early 1980s when he prepared study skins and museums specimens for his college. He has tiny shrew skulls gleaned from owl pellets and (registered) whale vertebrae.


Sea otter (Enhydra lutris) populations currently survive only in remnants of their former habitat, which stretched from Baja California, Mexico, around the northern Pacific rim to Japan 1 . Wild sea otters are the only marine mammal known to habitually use stone tools 2 , and they exhibit inter- and intra-population variation in the frequency of tool-use 3,4 . A significantly higher percentage of individuals use tools among the southern sea otters (E. l. nereis) than those in the northerly Aleutian Islands, partly due to the hardness of targeted prey: otters use tools less often when consuming soft-bodied prey such as worms than hard-shelled bivalves or marine snails 3,4 . Since stones provide the longest-lasting material evidence of past tool behavior in animals 5,6,7,8,9,10 , they offer the potential for long-term reconstruction of past sea otter behavior.

Sea otter stone use while foraging takes three forms: (i) using a stone underwater to pry loose abalone from a substrate 11 , (ii) pounding food using a stone as a hammer or anvil on the chest while floating at the surface 12 (Fig. 1A), and (iii) pounding food directly against a rocky substrate. Both the underwater and chest anvil pounding behaviors are considered tool-use under current definitions 2 , as they involve the controlled use of a detached object. In the third form of stone use, the sea otter repeatedly pounds a hard-shelled prey against a stationary, fixed stone anvil, typically a boulder at the water margin (Fig. 1B). We term this behavior emergent anvil use, to distinguish it from the use of chest anvils. There are no data at present on the selection or rate of re-use of stone tools among sea otters.

Wild sea otters at Bennett Slough Culverts opening mussels using stones. The otters are using (A) a chest anvil, and (B) an emergent anvil.

Here, we report an archaeological and behavioral study of emergent anvil use by sea otters at the Bennett Slough Culverts (BSC) site near Moss Landing, California, USA. The site consists of six large metal drainage pipes surrounded by boulders, connecting two tidal wetland areas either side of a minor road (BSC North and BSC South Figs 2 and 3 see Methods). We describe the behavior and physical outcomes of sea otter emergent anvil use to pound open mussels (Mytilus sp.), as an aid to future investigations into the geographical and historical spread (i.e. time-span, locations, and frequencies of occurrence) of this activity throughout the former sea otter range. Furthermore, for archaeologists who excavate past human behavior, it is crucial to be able to distinguish the evidence of sea otter food consumption from that of humans 13,14 . Our study establishes a new path for the growing field of animal archaeology, which until now has focused on primates 15,16,17 .

Map of the Bennett Slough Culverts (BSC) study site and Moss Landing, with foraging sea otter densities. Black triangles show the position of BSC North and South, and the insets show (A) BSC North facing northwest, and (B) BSC South facing southeast. Jetty Road is at the left of both inset photos. The map was created using ArcGIS 10.6.1 (ESRI 2018, Redlands, CA). The kernel density of foraging sea otters was created using the Spatial Analyst toolbox on sea otter location data from distribution surveys from January to December 2016. Kernel densities in raster format were calculated using a grid cell size of 400 m 2 and a kernel-smoothing window of 200 m. Kernel density is displayed with a transparency of 30% to see the features of Moss Landing on the ESRI World Imagery Basemap (Sources: Esri, DigitalGlobe, Earthstar Geographics, CNES/Airbus DS, GeoEye, USDA FSA, USGS, Aerogrid, IGN, IGP, and the GIS User Community,

Plan of the Bennett Slough Culverts site. View from above, showing alternating pipes and piles of rocks (the width of Jetty Rd is reduced for conciseness). Darker shading on rocks indicates a higher use-intensity score.

The Unnatural History of the Sea

Humanity can make short work of the oceans&rsquo creatures. In 1741, hungry explorers discovered herds of Steller&rsquos sea cow in the Bering Strait, and in less than thirty years, the amiable beast had been harpooned into extinction. It&rsquos a classic story, but a key fact is often omitted. Bering Island was the last redoubt of a species that had been decimated by hunting and habitat loss years before the explorers set sail.

As Callum M. Roberts reveals in The Unnatural History of the S ea, the oceans&rsquo bounty didn&rsquot disappear overnight. While today&rsquos fishing industry is ruthlessly efficient, intense exploitation began not in the modern era, or even with the dawn of industrialization, but in the eleventh century in medieval Europe. Roberts explores this long and colorful history of commercial fishing, taking readers around the world and through the centuries to witness the transformation of the seas.

Drawing on firsthand accounts of early explorers, pirates, merchants, fishers, and travelers, the book recreates the oceans of the past: waters teeming with whales, sea lions, sea otters, turtles, and giant fish. The abundance of marine life described by fifteenth century seafarers is almost unimaginable today, but Roberts both brings it alive and artfully traces its depletion. Collapsing fisheries, he shows, are simply the latest chapter in a long history of unfettered commercialization of the seas.

The story does not end with an empty ocean. Instead, Roberts describes how we might restore the splendor and prosperity of the seas through smarter management of our resources and some simple restraint. From the coasts of Florida to New Zealand, marine reserves have fostered spectacular recovery of plants and animals to levels not seen in a century. They prove that history need not repeat itself: we can leave the oceans richer than we found them.

"His impressive book, replete with quotations from the reports of early explorers, merchants and travelers describing seas teeming with life that's unimaginable today, is a vivid reminder of what we've lost and a plea to save what is left and help the sea recover some of its earlier bounty."
Publishers Weekly

"[Callum] Roberts's book is invaluable, not to mention deeply disturbing."
Jonathan Yardley's 10 best books of the year, "The Washington Post Book World"

"Passionate and immensely important book . . . ."
Washington Post

"Thank you, Callum Roberts, for your riveting, eloquent, compelling and urgently important saga of what may be the greatest environmental tragedy of our time: the relentless, wholesale extraction of ocean wildlife globally. Thank you, too, for inspiring hope that we still have a chance to reverse the disastrous decline of the ocean, and thus secure our own future, as well as that of fish, whales and clams."
Sylvia Earle, Explorer in Residence, National Geographic Society

"Well-documented and objective study of the history of fishing and overfishing since the 11th century. "
Library Journal

"So fascinating, so well-written, so rich with detail&hellip. I couldn't put this book down."
Philadelphia Inquirer

"Out of sight, out of mind&mdashthe wholesale destruction of marine life under the waves by an increasingly rapacious fishing industry has largely gone unnoticed. This eloquent and inspiring book not only reveals the true extent of this loss but also tells of the oceans' amazing powers of regeneration. A long-time advocate for setting aside large areas of ocean as marine reserves and allowing nature to do her own thing, Professor Roberts makes the case crystal clear as to why politicians and society as a whole must act now if we are to save our oceans and the beauty and the bounty they contain."
Richard Page, Greenpeace

"The accounts presented in The Unnatural History of the Sea provide compelling comparison benchmarks and expose the harm done by mankind's continued view of wildlife solely as commodity."
Honolulu Advertiser

" The Unnatural History of the Sea is not just another lament over bygone environmental conditions. Roberts highlights the value of conservation efforts, such as marine reserves (areas off-limits to fishing), reminding readers that an awareness of history is essential to designing such programs."

"Roberts is eloquent and persuasive as he recounts centuries of ill-managed fishery planning, and allows those who have directly experienced dramatic changes in the oceans to speak for themselves. Thoughtful, inspiring, devastating, and powerful, Roberts' comprehensive, welcoming, and compelling approach to an urgent subject conveys large problems in a succinct and involving manner. Readers won't be able to put it down."

"[Roberts] argues that nearly 30 percent of the world's oceans should be set aside as Marine Protected Areas, and his vivid accounts of centuries of relentless harvesting suggest that drastic measures are in order."

"Roberts' powerful, almost poetic account of the history of fishing and its deleterious effects on the sea at once alarms and informs."
Charleston Post and Courier

"This eloquent book, rendered with clarity and grace, is a true tale of tragedy. Callum Roberts summarizes the whole sweep of historical time from first European discovery of unimagined living ocean riches to unimaginable depletion and impoverishment of the sea. Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel. And only by seeing what was can we hope to see what should be, and what must be restored."
Carl Safina, author of "Song for the Blue Ocean" and "Voyage of the Turtle"

"Oceans seem vast and untrammeled, but we have wrecked their living resources from offshore to the depths and to the limits of Antarctic ice. Callum Roberts tells this story with passion and elegance, and shows us what we must do to get our marine life back."
Stuart Pimm, winner of the 2006 Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences

PART I. Explorers and Exploiters in the Age of Plenty
Chapter 1. The End of Innocence
Chapter 2. The Origins of Intensive Fishing
Chapter 3. Newfound Lands
Chapter 4. More Fish than Water
Chapter 5. Plunder of the Caribbean
Chapter 6. The Age of Merchant Adventurers
Chapter 7. Whaling: The First Global Industry
Chapter 8. To the Ends of the Earth for Seals
Chapter 9. The Great Fisheries of Europe
Chapter 10. The First Trawling Revolution
Chapter 11. The Dawn of Industrial Fishing
PART II. The Modern Era of Industrial Fishing 
Chapter 12. The Inexhaustible Sea
Chapter 13. The Legacy of Whaling
Chapter 14. Emptying European Seas
Chapter 15. The Downfall of King Cod
Chapter 16. Slow Death of an Estuary: Chesapeake Bay
Chapter 17. The Collapse of Coral
Chapter 18. Shifting Baselines
Chapter 19. Ghost Habitats
Chapter 20. Hunting on the High Plains of the Open Sea
Chapter 21. Violating the Last Great Wilderness
Chapter 22. No Place Left to Hide

PART III. The Once and Future Ocean
Chapter 23. Barbequed Jellyfish or Swordfish Steak?
Chapter 24. Reinventing Fishery Management
Chapter 25. The Return of Abundance
Chapter 26. The Future of Fish

The Unnatural History of the Sea  won the Society of Environmental Journalists' 2008 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award and the Independent Publishers Book Awards � gold medal for Best Non-Fiction on Environment/Ecology/Nature.

Under the sea: 50 breathtaking images from our oceans

The sea continues to be a source of great exploration and enchantment for many. With its charismatic (and sometimes elusive) wildlife, stunning plant life and even shipwrecks and underwater statues, there are so many wonders to appreciate under the waves. But you don't have to be an experienced diver to take a look at these 50 amazing sights from our oceans &mdash We've gathered them here for you.

The world’s biggest fish

A woman swims next to a whale shark, the ocean's biggest fish! Despite their dominance in size (they are as big as a school bus), they prefer to eat plankton, which they filter feed by swimming along with their mouths open.

Fast-punching shrimp

This brightly colored crustacean is a Peacock mantis shrimp. The females tend to be mainly red, but the males display these enchanting colors. They use an extremely fast punch to kill their prey &mdash one of the fastest movements in the animal kingdom and forceful enough to break through an aquarium's glass wall.

The Heart Reef

Considered the world's largest coral reef system, the Great Barrier Reef is made up of 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands off the eastern coast of Australia. One of those reefs takes on a heart shape, hence its moniker &mdash Heart Reef. This reef is located in the Whitsunday Islands and since snorkelers and scuba divers are not allowed to enter this protected area, it must be viewed from the air.

Green Turtle flies

A green turtle swims in the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, Australia. This species can live for up to 80 years and can grow up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) long.

Living fossil

Up close with a crinoid &mdash a marine animal related to sea stars and sea urchins. They are sometimes referred to as living fossils, because they have been around for about 450 million years and can still be found in the oceans today. This photo was taken in a coral reef in the Northern Mariana Islands.

Swirling fish

This stunning shot shows a small school of barracuda fish swirling through the sea. They are some of the fastest fish in the world and have been known to swim up to 36 mph (58 km/h).

Curious dolphin

One of the most commonly observed dolphins, the bottlenose is no less fascinating with its forever smiling face and curious manner. They can live for up to 60 years and have their own whistles to communicate with others.

Unreal urchin

Slate pencil urchins are usually found on the bottom of coral, lagoons or seagrass. This one was photographed up close at Kingman Reef in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Palau’s seaplane wreckage

This largely intact Jake Seaplane wreck from World War II sits 45 feet (nearly 14 meters) below the ocean surface off Palau, Micronesia.

Speedy sea lion

California sea lions are faster than any other sea lion &mdash they can swim up to 25 mph (40 km/h), and they can slow their heart rates down so they can stay underwater for up to 10 minutes.

Brain Coral

This close-up image of brain coral (which quite clearly got its name for its resemblance to the human organ) was shot in the Dry Tortugas, Florida. Its deep grooves form large circular structures that can be more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) in diameter.

Shallow waters

Pacific double-saddle butterflyfish dominate the waters in this stunning split-view image. They are usually found in shallow waters such as this and prefer high currents.

Swimming with grey reef sharks

These stunning grey reef sharks swim amongst colorful anthias fish in Jarvis Island, Pacific Remote Island Areas Marine National Monument. The males of the species can grow to 4.8 feet (1.5 meters).

Pacific purple sea urchins

Sea lions swim by Pacific purple sea urchins. This species of urchins is covered in pincers, tube feet and purple spines which the urchin uses to grab food and stay safe from predators.

Marine debris

A seal is caught amongst fishing nets, as the divers work hard to free it. Marine debris can injure wildlife, as well as cause issues for boats passing through.

Smiling stingray

Stingrays have no bones in their bodies but are instead made of flexible cartilage. They also have gel-filled pits across their face that help them to detect electrical signals from other animals when they move.

Squatting on coral

A squat lobster pushes its way through four crinoids (feather stars), which sit on top of a sea fan colony with a cold-water coral called Lophelia pertusa growing at the base. This photo was taken during a NOAA expedition in Roatan, Honduras, to work out the relationship between host corals and their associated species.

Looking for prey

Blacktip sharks look for prey in this stunning aerial photo. They tend to hunt small schooling fish, nabbing them as the sharks swim swiftly through the water, sometimes even breaching its surface, according to the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Hairy frogfish

This wild-looking creature is a Hairy frogfish. It has no scales instead its body is covered in fleshy spines called spinules that resemble hair. They can change color to blend into their surroundings.

A Clownfish cuddle

Forget "Finding Nemo," these two clownfish (also called anemonefish) win the cute race as they rest together amongst a sea anemone's tentacles. Mucous covers this fish's body to protect it from the anemone's stinging cells.

A diving adventure

A diver explores the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. This area is protected by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and is one of 14 such sites around the world.

The Great White

A great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) swimming in the Pacific Ocean at Guadalupe Island in Mexico. This top predator can reach up to 20 feet (6 meters) in length. Great white shark attacks on humans are rare people, however, are a great white's greatest threat. "People, on the other hand, capture too many great whites, through targeted fisheries or accidental catch in other fisheries, and scientists generally consider great whites to be vulnerable to extinction," said Oceana, a nonprofit tasked with protecting the oceans.

Christ the Abyss

The original cast bronze statue of Jesus Christ made by Guido Galletti, called "Christ the Abyss," can be found between Camogli and Portofino, Italy, in the Mediterranean Sea.

Bigeye at Rapture Reef

These bright-red Bigeye fish swim at Rapture Reef within the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. Most species of Bigeye are carnivorous and nocturnal.

Deadly pufferfish

A pufferfish underwater at Moorea Island, French Polynesia. There are more than 120 species of pufferfish, and most of them contain a substance known as tetrodotoxin, making them lethal to predators. The toxin is 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide &mdash the amount of toxin in one pufferfish could kill up to 30 people, according to National Geographic.

Venomous octopus

One of the most venomous octopuses in the world, the blue-ringed octopus has distinctive blue rings that become more vivid when it becomes agitated. Its venom is 1,000 times more powerful than cyanide, and the little creature holds enough venom to kill 26 adult humans within minutes, according to the Ocean Conservancy.

Coral Reef at Swains Island

Covered in stunning, dappling light, here we see rice coral (Montipora species) and a small-branching coral (Pocillopora meandrina) in the reef benthic community at Swains Island, a marine sanctuary in American Samoa.

Snuggly seals

Northern elephant seals, named for the elephant-like noses sported by the adult males, are giants. The males can grow to more than 3 feet (4 meters) in length and weigh up to 4,500 pounds (2,000 kilograms), according to the Marine Mammal Center. Females, meanwhile, grow to about 10 feet (3 m) and can weigh 1,500 pounds (600 kg). They are the second-largest seals in the world. In the past, the seals were hunted to near-extinction, mostly for their blubber, which was used as lamp oil. Today, there are about 150,000 elephant seals, with 124,000 of these taking up residence off California, the Marine Mammal Center said.