Marine Life In India

Item Code: NAG015
Author: B.F. Chhapgar
Publisher: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Language: English
Edition: 2006
ISBN: 9780195685145
Pages: 384 (Through out Color and B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 9.5 inch X 7 inch
Weight 740 gm
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Book Description

About the Book

The sea covers about three-quarters of the earth's surface and houses a complex and varied set of creatures, including some as colourful as butterflies and birds.

There are many that have quaint, even bizarre, habits. Some fishes, for instance, can literally 'shock' you with a high voltage electric current. Others rob their prey of poison darts and store these in their bodies to use as weapons. Yet others are experts in marksmanship, and can shoot down a target with water bullets. There are also creatures that live in the dark ocean depths, producing their own light. Then there are marine plants that do not have a root, stem, leaves or flowers, and are so tiny that ten million could fit in a thimbleful of water. Some of these marine creatures have no relatives on land or in fresh water. Full of such fascinating facts, illustrations, and photographs, Marine Life in India is compact, engaging, and easy-to-read. The young reader and others with an interest in marine life will find this book a valuable introduction.

About the Author

B.F. Chhapgar, a marine biologist with over fifty years' experience, has been Curator, Taraporevala Aquarium, Mumbai, and Research Officer, Taraporevala Marine Biological Station. He has also worked for the Department of Fisheries for over twenty years. During his career, the author has discovered three previously unknown species of marine crabs and two mantis shrimps. He also co-discovered a new kind of jellyfish and fish. A Life Fellow of the International Oceanographic Foundation, Miami, USA, his publications include Seashore Life of India, Common Fishes of India and Wonders of the Deep Sea.


Known as a source of food (fish, salt, gelatine) and as a passage for transport from continent to continent since time immemorial, the great potential of the seas to meet future human needs in medicines, minerals and in harnessing energy has been revealed recently. On the academic front, the monsoon, the very pulse of Indian economy, is shown to be dependent on the sea-surface temperature. The secrets of climate-vegetation changes over the millennia and also the archaeological scenarios of the past are brought out through the pollen grains of plant species and certain algae getting deposited in marine sediments.

I, for one, never get tired of looking at the sea in its multifarious moods: stormy, choppy in monsoon; calm, placid in winter; framed with bright colours at summer sunset. That this very sea and its immediate vicinity is home to a variety of fascinating animal beings is brilliantly brought out in this book by Dr B.F. Chhapgar, an eminent marine biologist of international fame and a prolific writer who has to his credit nine books and over a hundred popular and technical papers written to popularize science in a style that is appealing to the lay person.

A precocious youngster, Dr Chhapgar graduated at the age of 17 when most of the students of this age are still in school. He has been associated with the Taraporevala Aquarium, Mumbai, for 22 years, right from its inception in 1951, and was its Curator from 1959 to 1965, as well as Research Officer-in-Charge of the Taraporevala Marine Biological Station wherefrom he has gleaned his practical knowledge.

Far from being an easy-chair biologist, Dr Chhapgar has qualities of an explorer.

An experienced scuba-diver and mountaineer and trekker, he has participated in the International Indian Ocean Expedition twice and in the inaugural cruise of Ocean Research Vessel Sagar Kanya, among many others. The result is the discovery of seven species new to science and several new records for India. His career has been dotted with awards and honours: Scholarships from Government of Bombay State, Vicaji Taraporevala Trust, Life Fellowship of International Oceanographic Foundation, Rotary Club of Bombay Seacoast Lifetime Achievement A ward, Dharmakumarsinhji Trophy being some of the outstanding acknowledgments of his worth and calibre. The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, has acknowledged the sterling contribution made by this dedicated, committed person by having his portrait hung in their gallery of Crustacea. Incidentally, he is one among only two Indians to receive this rare honour. And he has been the only Indian to be on the editorial board of two prestigious international magazines brought out from USA.

At a time when global warming, climate change, rising sea levels, beach erosion, cyclones ravaging heavily populated coastal areas are making headlines as major environmental problems, the author's timely warning of preventing harmful anthropogenic activities will go a long way towards conserving biodiversity and maintaining sustainable uses of resources.

I have great pleasure in writing these lines as a foreword to the work of the author, a man who has shunned personal publicity, whom I met personally only a few years back but whose scientific works I had repeatedly come across.


Forests at the bottom of the sea - the branches and leaves, Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds - the thick Tangle, the openings, and the pink turf, Different colours, pale grey and green, purples whites and gold - The play of light through the water, Sluggish exigencies grazing there, suspended, or slowly crawling Close to the bottom: The sperm whale at the surface, blowing air and spray, or dissporting with her flukes, The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy sea-leopard, and the sting ray, Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes - sight in those ocean depths - Breathing that thick breathing air, as so many do.

When one contemplates the vastness of knowledge gathered about the sea, it is expected that there would be a plethora of books on the subject. There are quite a few of these, but most of them are written in a highly technical language and are targeted to the advanced serious student at the graduate, or higher, level. The ordinary person does not want to devote a lifetime to the study of the life in the sea, hence the need for a compact book written in an easy-to-follow style which will give a glimpse of sea life, awaken curiosity, satiate the need to gain a better picture and to tread the long path, if need be, to a more detailed study of that major portion of the earth's surface which is covered by water. I agree with Herman Melville that "there is, one knows not what sweet mystery about the sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath."

To undertake the task of dealing with so huge and complex a topic as life in the sea in a single book is a challenging venture as many volumes are usually written to do full justice. But voluminousness and a high level of technical language would defeat the purpose of developing "sea consciousness" in the reader who has no technical background to topics covered herein. That is why I do not desire to follow a style dense with footnotes and heavy on academic jargon that takes some effort to extract the author's intended meaning from the fog of verbiage. For this reason, I have avoided, as far as possible, using scientific names. At the same time, I do not wish to emulate George Bernard Shaw who, tongue in cheek, used the word "ghoti" for fish. His explanation: pronounce 'gh' as in enough, '0' as in women, and 'ti' as in fiction! I am acting only as a communicator, who gives an opportunity to the reader to read and ponder, to wonder at the many mysteries of the sea, and to develop a deeper understanding of it. To make for light reading, I have thought fit to start each topic with a poem appropriate to it. It was when I started browsing through poetry books that I realised the vast store of poems written about the sea and its creatures. In fact, like Robert Louis Stevenson's confession,

Of all my verse,

like not a single line;

But like my title, for it is not mine. That title from a better man I stole;

Ah, how much better, had I stolen the whole!

The reader may be intrigued - nay, even frightened - at seeing the vast number of "chapters", numbering over seventy. Each so-called chapter covers a topic, and it is not over four or five pages, though a few have perforce to be extended to more pages. There is ap intrinsic advantage in this brevity; it does not permit the reader to get bored, as each chapter ends by the time his attention starts to wander.

It was with some trepidation that I started this book, but I was inspired by Don Carlos, who says, "Nothing would ever be written if a man waited till he could write so well that a reviewer could find no fault with it." I was also encouraged by D. Molloch' lines:

If you can't be a pine on the top of a hill, Be a scrub in the valley - but be

The best little scrub by the side of the rill, Be a bush if you can't be a tree.

So what I have done is just to emulate Kipling's monkeys, viz.,

All the tales I ever have heard Uttered by bat or beast or bird - Hide or skin or scale or feather - Jabber it quickly and all together.

I believe it is far better to attempt to write something, however badly, instead of just sitting tight, again like Kipling's monkeys:

Here we sit in a branchy row,

Thinking of beautiful things we know; Dreaming of deeds that we mean to do, All complete in a minute or two - Something noble and grand and good, Won hv merelv wishing we could.

And from where did I manage to get this heterogeneous information? Like Rudyard Kipling, Some I gathered from my friends And some I looted from my foes, And some - all's fish that Heaven sends - Are histories of private woes. And, though I may have had the good fortune of having close connections with the sea for half my life and having been a keen student of sea life, as Isaac Newton says, "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been like a boy, playing on the seashore, and dwelling myself, in now and then finding a smooth pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

It is said that William Faulkner wrote a novella during a single shift on his job as a night watchman. I am not such a genius; it took me some years to gather material and describe it, and my apologies to those who waited patiently for me to complete the task.

The material gathered in this book is genuine; I did not create it. It is but the cream skimmed from much whey of unsuccessful toil and curds of disappointment. It has been derived partly from my personal experience of over fifty years, but a sizeable portion has been culled from books and technical "Papers" too numerous to list. For anyone who wishes to expand his knowledge, a short list of books which will be of interest to the general reader is included at the end of this book. To those who fmd the topics in this book very diverse and seemingly unconnected, I can only reason that I have emulated Lewis Carroll's Walrus who considered that among subjects to be talked about were shoes, sealing-wax, cabbages, kings and whether pigs have wings. I only hope that I am not like those of our countrymen in the 10th century who, according to Alberuni, "could expound extensively on subjects that they knew absolutely nothing about." I hope I am not one among those described by Charles Churchill:

So loud each tongue, so empty was each head, So much they talked, so very little said.

As has been rightly said, marine zoology is the study of marine animals and not merely the study of books about them. So I cannot too strongly urge that, for true appreciation, a living animal is preferable to a dead one, and a dead one is better than any drawing or written description.


The earth is full of Thy riches; So is this great and wide sea,

Wherein are things creeping innumerable, Both small and great beasts.

There go the ships:

There is the Leviathan,

Whom Thou has made to play therein.


Over two-thirds of the earth's surface is covered by water. One of the continuing concerns of man has been to understand and explore this vast watery domain. Yet, being a terrestrial creature, Man has a tendency to know more about the life and phenomena on land. Of course, the cliche that man knows more about the surface of the moon than he does of the bottom of the ocean is no longer true. Yet it has taken immense patience and an arduous task to reach our present level of understanding of the sea.

When it comes to marine life, many of us have vague -even wrong - ideas. Man's imagination, from ancient times, has run wild when it came to a study of natural history, whether on land or in the sea. As a poet has aptly written,

Those who greedily pursue

Things wonderful instead of true; That in their speculations choose

To make discoveries strange news; And natural history a gazette of tales stupendous and far-fetched; Hold no truth worthy to be known, That is not huge and overgrown, And explicate appearances,

Not as they are, but as they please; In vain strive Nature to suborn,

And for their pains are paid with scorn.

Thus the Chinese envisaged a dragon as an animal with the head of a camel, the eyes of a hare, the ears of a bull, the horns of a stag, the neck of a snake, the belly of a frog, the scales of a fish, the paws of a tiger and the talons of an eagle. An exaggeration of the early history of mankind? Then come to the recent (1757) book by Abbe de Guyon in the East Indies, where he cites Ctesias's account of a manticore. This monster had the face and ears of a man, blue eyes, a red body of the bigness, shape and strength of a lion. It had three rows of teeth with which it devoured both man and beast. Its tail, a cubit (about 50 cm) in circumference, was stuck all over with darts 30 cm long and hard as iron, which it shot forth behind and before to a hundred paces, and against whose poison there was no remedy. One cannot but admire the inventive powers of men through the ages!

He many a creature did anatomize,

Almost unpeopling water, air, and land, Beasts, fishes, birds, snails, caterpillars, flies Were laid full low by his relentless hand. Then there is the account of a bird in India which lives in the midst of flames without the least hurt. Clothes are made from its feathers, and alL one has to do to wash them is to put them in the fire for a short time. Had this been a reality, our dhobis (washermen) would be jobless!

More down to earth is a species of ant as big as a fox, which has the property of finding out where gold is buried, and digs it up. Equally interesting, as it touches on marine life, is Abbe's account of flying fish: In summer it flies upon the mountains, and after autumn it takes itself to the sea and becomes very delicate. After reading such accounts as these, one feels that the study of nature's creatures has become a tame affair compared to what it was in the good old days.

Unless one actively searches for them, plants and animals in the sea are relegated to the background in our range of conception as compared to the more familiar ones on land. There are no large trees to inspire our awe, nor-as lay people often think-animals comparable to, say, elephants or tigers. Few people are aware of the beauty and grace of marine life. Fewer still try to understand their way of life, or why they behave as they do. Many books on the sea exist. As Aristotle said, "Each of us adds a little to our understanding of Nature, and from all the facts assembled arises a certain grandeur." Then again, as Chuangtzu said, "You cannot speak of the ocean to a well-frog, the creature ofa narrower sphere." But surely there are many of us who would like to learn more about the sea but are daunted by what they deem to be gobbledygook full of scientific jargon in most books meant for technically advantaged scientists. In comparison, there is a dearth of books on the sea aimed at the intelligent lay reader interested in expanding his view of the sea and its mysteries. For, as W.R. Inge puts it so succintly, "it is a scandal that anyone should be bored in this interesting world."

The works of human artifices soon tire The curious eye; the fountain's sparkling rill, And gardens, when adorned by human skill, Reproach the feeble hand, the vain desire. But oh! the free and wild magnificence Of' Nature in her lavish hours cloth steal. In admiration silent and intense, The soul of him who hath a soul to feel.

With some misgivings I have endeavoured to fill this gap in India's popular science literature. Scientists may criticise, as they have the right and the duty to do, whatever they consider the technical faults of the book, but they should remember that they are in some measure to blame for not writing such a book themselves. The marine world is not the sole prerogative of the technically trained; the lay person also has a right to be considered. The purpose of science is knowledge, and every one has the right to know. What science has discovered is common property and should be made easily available to all.

I have here only made a garland of culled flowers, and have brought nothing of my own but the thread that ties them together. And I make no apologies for being selective about the information included in this book. Writing a book that is both academically "respectable" (and hence acceptable by one's peers) and yet comprehensible to lay persons not familiar with the subject is one of the most difficult tasks facing any author. It is hoped that the format and style chosen in this book will be an effective compromise to meet both objectives. The format and layout should enable both biologists and lay persons to quickly absorb the contents, which will tell them what is known of their habits, behaviour and general biology. I hope that those who know marine biology better than I do, will not find the book inaccurate and that those who have never been and may never be on the sea will, through its medium, obtain something like a vital impression, a living picture of some ofthe most attractive and interesting forms of life.

A humble word of caution. A college degree does not always mean that one is educated. It implies that one has been opened up to a perpetual state of ignorance and thus an innate curiosity and a lifelong thirst for more knowledge. And as far as my state of knowledge is concerned, I feel that I am still like a child, looking at this extraordinary world with round eyes. There is so much I must learn; everything arouses my curiosity. I have one main interest, and that is to know more about it. And, according to Browning, how God laughs when any man says, "Here I'm learned: this I understand". So, like John Masefield (in SEA-FEVER):

I must down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide Is a wild call and a clear call, that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the brown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I am fortunate to live near the sea, and it has influenced my whole outlook on life. It made me feel awed and humble. If you lived on the sea, you could not help comparing everything with it, and it has made everything-money, power and fame- puny. The sea gives me a richness and independence that no one can take away from me. (As with Binod Rao), the horizon prompts strange thoughts of the unknown, unseen forces at work ceaselessly night and day. Yes; no other single phenomenon, not even the towering mountain heights perhaps arouses the same overpowering sense of the eternal and the infinite. For the mountains, however high they may be, are of the earth, tapering offand ending somewhere, even if we cannot mark their tops with our human eyes. But the sea, the awesome sea-who knows whence it comes and where it may lead?

A word of caution. In the rather ill considered rush we make to exploit our marine resources, we have taken little trouble to examine the capabilities and possibilities of the sea's wild. creatures, save insofar as the findings were of commercial value. Therefore much that is interesting has been overlooked. The kinship between man and the rest of our natural flora and fauna becomes very apparent to those of us who sojourn on the sea for any length of time; alarmingly so to those whose attitude has been governed by the well-worn and much abused phrase that "Man shall dominate over all." For, as Joachim Miller so accurately puts it,

The course of life is like the sea; Men come and go, tides rise and fall, And that is all of history.

The idea of domination and submission, though now passing out of fashion in nearly every walk of life, is still hard to dissociate in the minds of (fortunately) a few. For the enlightened person, the sea is a harmonious element in the general "landscape" that is incomparable in its nobility of colour, mass and a feeling of the Unchangeable. Dominance? Conquest? The sea is never conquered; one makes friends with it. Man never dominates it, but belongs there as do the skies, sunshine and other living creatures, keeping time with the seasons, moving in an orderly procession with Nature, holding to the unity of life in all things, seeking no superior place for himself but merely a state of harmony with all created things. Remember, Man is supplicant to, rather than master of Nature. So Be lenient with lobsters, and ever kind to crabs, And be not disrespectful to cuttlefish or dabs;

Be tender with the tadpole, and let the limpet thrive, Be merciful to mussels, don't skin your eels alive; When talking to a turtle don't mention calipee Be always kind to animals wherever you may be.

Nothing is more unfeeling than ignorance, and nothing makes a person more compassionate towards our little fellow creatures than a close aquaintance with them. As Coleridge notes, He prayeth well who loveth well Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best who loveth best All things both great and small; For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all.

Now the sea is only a part of Nature, and it has often taken a heavy toll of lives and property. Does that mean that the sea -and, an extension of it, Nature itself - is unhappy with its children? Man has always looked upon Nature as an indulgent mother and made demands, often unreasonable, on her patience and resources. But is that image right, or is she simply an indifferent spectator who could not care about the sufferings of her creatures? Pliny the elder was the first to doubt nearly 2,000 years ago. "It is far from easy to determine whether she has proved a kind parent to man or a merciless stepmother", he said. Poets and thinkers have tried hard to fathom her. Cowper thought Samuel Daniel thought nature is above all art. Wordsworth, an incurable lover of nature, sang,

Nature never did betray

The heart that loved her.

Henry Fuseli went to the other extreme: ''Nature puts me out." Poets like Tagore and Wordsworth saw an all-pervasive spirit in nature which they worshipped. In recent times, nature, particularly vegetation, has come under relentless attack by man, along with the sea, the earth and the mountains. Milton has the last word: ''Nature, she hath done her part; Do thou but thine."



  Foreword ix
  Preface xi
1 Introduction 1
2 The Living Soup-Pastures of the Sea 6
3 Forests in the Sea 10
4 The Living Bridge 18
5 The Tree That Makes Land 23
6 The Itsy-bitsy, Teeny-weeny Drifters of the Sea 27
7 Miniature Sea-shells 31
8 The Living Sieve 34
9 On the Rocks-but not whisky 40
10 The Living Jellies 44
11 Borne on the Purple Wind 49
12 Flower Power 54
13 Deep-sea Corals 62
14 A Miscellany of Home-use Items 64
15 Psst! It's time someone noticed us too 67
16 "Worms" that are not worms 75
17 Legs-Fuzzy-wuzzy Creepy Craw lies of the Sea 80
18 The Motley Crowd 85
19 The Birds and the B's 94
20 Salty Knight in Armour 100
21 Pinocchios of the Sea 106
22 Home is where the Heart is 109
23 Give a dog an ill name-and hang him 113
24 Masquerade (when a crab is not a crab) 117
25 The Bottom Gang 121
26 The Sidewalk Specialists 126
27 Beach Buddies 130
28 Gladiators of the Sea 135
29 Oddest Ancient Oaf Alive 138
30 The bug that walks on water 144
31 Double-shelled Snails 146
32 Drillers in the Sea 153
33 Taj Mahals in the Sea 157
34 Silk in the Sea 162
35 Backpackers of the Sea 164
36 Stingers on the Shore 175
37 Purple Pomp 178
38 Gilding the Lily 181
39 Butterflies of the Sea- "Flying Snails" 184
40 Quaint Rabbits of the Sea 187
41 The Bold and the Beautiful 190
42 Beauty and the Beast 193
43 Octopus-Odious or Ostracised? 197
44 Sleek and Savage 201
45 The Mathematical Prodigy 207
46 Stars in the Sea 214
47 Rough Stuff-Pin-cushions in the Sea 221
48 The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly 225
49 Footprints on the Sands 229
50 Our Forefathers 234
51 Monarchs of the Aquatic Realm 241
52 Body Talk 246
53 Kites in the Sea (and their kin) 250
54 The Misunderstood Moray 255
55 The Fish That Flies 258
56 Women's Lib in the Water 261
57 The Leopard That Changes Its Spots 264
58 William Tells in the Water 266
59 Cinderellas of the Sea 268
60 Rainbows in the Sea 271
61 Painful Pricks (They Jab and They Stab) 276
62 Aquatic Olympics-Hop-skip-and-jump  
  Champions of the Sea 284
63 Doctors at Sea 286
64 Hitch-hikers of the Sea 291
65 Poison in the Pot 294
66 Meet the Mighty Mola 297
67 The Compleat Angler 300
68 Have your cake, and eat it too 303
69 The Gentle Giants 306
70 Born to Kill 311
71 The Gray Ghosts 316
72 The that lays the Golden Egg 324
73 Neither Fish nor Fowl (the adorable, intelligent dolphins) 326
74 Mermaids with Moustaches 333
  Acknowledgements 338
  Further Reading 340
  Glossary 342
  Appendix 345
  Index 347

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