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May 2007 Vol. 22, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Know Your Fish: Must-Read Books for Divers

from the May, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If you’re a serious diver, you want to know what you see in the deep. The only way is to take a good book with you to identify the fish and study their behavior. But don’t rely on your dive resort or liveaboard to have it on hand— most stock a few dog-eared copies, but they may not be current or complete, or else another guest may have taken the book you need to his room.

Here are the best Caribbean and Pacific Coast ID books to add to your reference library. I’m never without these books when I travel to those sites, and I refer to them when I write. You can find longer descriptions on our website at

Buy these from Undercurrent by going to the book page on You’ll get them for the price currently listed on, although they are subject to change. All the profits from book sales go directly to programs that are saving coral reefs.

The Caribbean

The Reef Set: Reef Fish, Reef Creatures and Reef Coral, by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach. This three-volume set is the unparalleled source for information on Caribbean sea life and identification. Because so many species of fish continually confuse divers with their variable colors and markings, the Reef Fish Identification’s third edition (512 pages) covers them all. The Reef Creatures book (488 pages) covers sponges, nudibranchs, octopus, crustaceans, Christmas tree worms and more. The Reef Coral book (252 pages) helps you identify all the hard and soft corals, spawning, and even the growth on top of corals, as well as algae and other plant life. Each book retails for $40, but the boxed set is discounted by 37 percent. Hardcover with shelf case, 7 x 10 inches, $75. Paperback with weatherresistant canvas bag, 7 x 10 inches, $85.

A Guide to the Coral Reefs of the Caribbean, by Mark D. Spalding. This book doubles as a guide to the natural history of coral reefs and a diver’s travel guide. It covers 35 dive destinations with key information on reefs, marine parks and remote places, and a photographic field guide of the marine flora and fauna. Spalding, a coral reef scientist, delves into eco-problems with a focus on what each person can do to protect the reefs. Paperback, 7 x 10 inches, $24.95.

Pacific Coast of Mexico and Central America

Fishes of the Tropical Eastern Pacific, by Gerald R. Allen and D. Ross Robertson. The ultimate ID book for the Baja, Costa Rica, the Galapagos and the Sea of Cortez. Photo-packed pages cover 680 species of sharks and sailfish, wrasses and razorfish, pipefish and pearlfish. Sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute, Drs. Gerald Allen and Ross Robertson’s definitive volume describes and comments on these critters’ remarkable behaviors. Hardbound, 8.8 x 11.5 inches, 332 pages, $85.

Sea of Cortez Marine Animals, by Daniel W. Gotshall. The book you’ll need in order to identify critters anywhere along Mexico’s Pacific Coast, all the way to Panama. Gotshall, a marine biologist with 34 years’ research experience, has more than 250 photos of fish, corals, nudibranchs, lobsters, sea stars, and other critters endemic to these waters. There are tips on how to identify each animal and where to spot it. Paperback, 7 x 9 inches, 112 pages, $21.95.

Reef Fish Identification: Baja to Panama, by Paul Humann and Ned Deloach. The latest edition in Humann’s series of marine life books, and the most comprehensive field guide for identifying reef fishes from the Gulf of California to the Pacific coast of Panama, including offshore islands. More than 500 photographs of 400 species in their natural habitat. Each species’ portrait includes the fish’s common, scientific and family names, size range, description, visually distinctive features, preferred habitat, typical behavior, depth range, and geographical distribution. Paperback, 6.5 x 9 inches, 364 pages, $39.95.

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