Sharkabet: A Sea of Sharks From A to Z

Here one of the more fun books I’ve ever come across in the course of my Shark Week tie-ins. From the entertaining and funky paleoartist Ray Troll, it’s Sharkabet: A Sea of Sharks From A to Z! I’ve featured some of Ray other work here before, from his Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway series to the band he plays with, the Ratfish Wranglers. Speaking of the Wranglers, Ray Troll also wrote what is basically the musical version of this book, with their song “Megalodon” from the album “Fish Worship”. They sing about all the same sharks in the same order, so give it a listen for an additional preview of what you can expect to find in Sharkabet!

Sharkabet, as the name implies, follows the typical “ABC book” format, with a different member of the shark family for each letter of the alphabet. I say “shark family” since, as Troll explains in the foreword, it actually covers the entire chondrichthyan (cartilaginous fish) family tree, including rays, chimaeras, and even more distant prehistoric relatives.

Incidentally, Ray happens to be wearing the namesake of his band as a hat in the self portrait in the corner.

There’s a roughly even split between ancient & modern species, both familiar & obscure. It also gets more or less specific depending on which letter of the alphabet needs filling, from the general clade of Iniopterygians for the letter “I” (see Promexyele in Paleo Sharks for one example), to the very specific Kidney-Headed Hammerhead for “K”.

Check out my review of the CollectA Megalodon for a fun toy to pair with this book!

The ever-popular, mighty Megalodon of course shows up to claim the letter “M” for itself (and gets the entire companion song named after it, as well!), but personally I most anticipated seeing what Helicoprion looked like at this stage in Ray Troll’s career. Considering the age of this book and the innumerable interpretations it has inspired, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Ray Troll was ahead of the curve even then, and his Helicoprion looks reasonably close to the modern look that he has since helped to establish. It certainly looks more “sharky” here and less like its more closely related ratfish cousins, but I think it could still fall into the realm of possibility, especially given the potential pressures of convergent evolution.

The one thing that really dates this piece is that Helicoprion still sports a pointed nose similar to the Goblin Shark that it shares the page with, a feature that was something of a trope in early 2000s paleoart of the enigmatic Whorl-Tooth.

While by nature the “ABC book” format usually doesn’t leave much room for detailed or nuanced discussions of shark biology, Troll makes sure to include a “Shark Field Guide” at the end of the book (in addition to the previously mention foreword), giving him the chance to provide readers with fun facts about each of the stars of Sharkabet. As always though, Ray’s signature brand of funky fish art is the real star of the show, with precisely detailed illustrations that occasionally border on the psychedelic.

Here Orthocanthus stands in for the entire xenacanth family, though to be fair they all look pretty similar. The Whiteside Museum of Natural History actually has a display that is somewhat similar to this piece, with a xenacanth shark chasing the “boomerang salamander” Diplocaulus.

As a fan of paleontology, sharks, paleoart, and Ray Troll himself, I highly recommend Sharkabet to all my readers. The two Cruisin’ books may be the more definitive Ray Troll experience apart from simply owning some of his art prints (preferably on a t-shirt), but Sharkabet definitely does not disappoint. The simpler-by-design ABC format of this book may also be the most ideal way to get young paleo nerds hooked on Troll’s work, too, especially if purchased as part of a Shark-Week-inspired summer learning program. I am pleased but not at all surprised to give Ray Troll’s Sharkabet: A Sea of Sharks From A to Z my enthusiastic Dino Dad Stomp of Approval!

If you’re in the mood for more fossil shark material, check out my reviews of the books Sharks: A 400 Million Year Journey, Discovering Sharks, & Paleo Sharks: Survival of the Strangest, as well as the Safari Ltd. Prehistoric Sharks Toob figures alongside the Collecta Megalodon. I also have a picture of a very nice Ptychodus fossil in my review of the Texas Through Time museum!


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