I WAS READING John Bantin’s new book when I realised that it was having a distinct physical effect on me.
The chapter was entitled Maldives After Dark. It starts with the author losing his companions in strong currents on a night dive, wondering what the best course of action would be and then being mobbed by big tawny nurse sharks – not usually the most intimidating of sharks but, in disorientating circumstances, an additional and unexpected complication.
It was at this point that I realised that my heartbeat was distinctly elevated. I even enlisted my phone app and confirmed that my pulse was above the normal rate for someone who has been sitting in an armchair for some time.
The point was that I was empathising, losing myself in the narrative and going along for the dive, and it was far from the first time while reading the book. John Bantin has that enviable ability, and it’s when relating the progress of an exciting dive that he’s at his best.
I’ve read a lot of books about sharks, many quite dull, but Shark Bytes has quickly established itself as a favourite because it’s not so much about sharks as about diving with sharks.
John is not a marine biologist but he does have vast in-water experience observing, photographing and writing about these animals in some of the world’s top locations, and it shows.
When, for instance, he addresses the spate of shark attacks in the Red Sea in 2010 and the theories of the US?experts called in by the Egyptians, he is able to put forward his own counter-theory about the shark behaviour with conviction and authority.
The photography throughout feels as familiar as an old pullover but is no less spectacular for that. John is a great believer that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case
I think every thousand of his words simply rests comfortably on the back of a picture or two.
John Bantin is not the world’s most self-effacing man, yet another of the pleasures of his writing is that when he screws up, he enjoys sharing that screw-up with his readers – and that’s always fun to read, and often educational too.
Shark Bytes’ chapters cover well-known species of shark, as well as mantas, dugongs, wobbegongs, dolphins and other big marine animals. If I have one criticism it’s that I don’t think he needed to be all-encompassing – where there is a gap in his experience he has called in reinforcements in the shape of shark experts, and the transition between his narrative and their voices is at times a tad clumsy.
John Bantin as a ”shark witness” has done a lot to correct popular misconceptions about sharks and shark-diving and this book will, I hope, appeal to a wider readership than just the diving community.
But if this isn’t a Christmas gift to make divers’ hearts beat faster, I don’t know what is.
Steve Weinman

Fernhurst Books
Softback, 224pp, £17.99