SO IGNORANT was I about the subject that I used to think an elasmobranch was an obscure type of sticking plaster. I was, however, keen to review the Collins Sharks & Rays, The Ultimate Guide to Underwater Predators - to the point of competing with that well-known shark expert, Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch, for the task.
A 288-page volume, lavishly illustrated with explanatory drawings and endless fabulous colour photographs, makes this an essential reference for anyone interested in the subject.
Elasmobranchs, the Latin name for the group of animals comprising cartilaginous fishes, sharks and rays, are among the most spectacular and exciting animals that we divers might encounter underwater, yet little is really known about them - not even about the number of existing species.
This volume covers around 350 of them and represents probably the most up-to-date information and thinking on these extraordinary animals - on their highly developed senses and intellect, their ecology, their biology, and their known behaviour.
Alas, too little is being discovered too late, as mans exploitative behaviour is already hunting them to extinction.
The book includes a field-guide to sharks and rays, covering more than 70 commonly encountered species illustrated with some of the best fish photography I have ever seen.
There is also a comprehensive section on how to understand sharks and rays and our relationship with them. This covers myths and legends, how sharks are recorded in history, where they are found, shark attacks, conservation, and how to get close to them.
A comprehensive section deals with the physiology and biology of sharks. Finally the best locations for successful encounters are detailed, including places as diverse as the Sea of Cortez, the Galapagos and Cocos, Yap and Palau, Fiji and Australia, right round to the Red Sea and back to the Bahamas.
Wherever I dipped in or out, the book had something fascinating to offer - there was even a resources directory.
In fact, this volume, with contributions from six prominent elasmobranch experts from Australia, Hawaii, Florida and California, represents everything you are likely to need to know about sharks.
Edited by Leighton Taylor, who is credited, among other things, with discovering the megamouth shark, it is a compendium of knowledge that will find a prominent place on my book-shelf. John Bantin

Sharks & Rays, The Ultimate Guide to Underwater Predators, Harper Collins 0181 741 7070. Hardback £16.99