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A surprising number of errors and misleading information
on 18 October 2001
Its pretty cover will undoubtedly sell it to the unsuspecting public, and at first sight it appears to be just what divers need - a photographic identification guide, with an easy to follow layout, species photos, notes, key identification features and distribution maps. Unfortunately, this book doesn't live up to its promise, and the more you examine it the less trustworthy it proves.
After only a quick flick through the pictures we found at least a dozen glaring errors where the photos used to illustrate easily recognised species were of a completely different species (examples: the football seasquirt Diazona violacea, sponge Raspailia hispida, sea gooseberry Pleurobrachia pileus, sea cucumber Neopentadactyla mixta and seaweed Scytosiphon lomentaria) and there was even one image used more than once to illustrate different species! A more detailed look at the guide, including testing it during a marine taxanomic workshop involving experts from all over the UK and Ireland, revealed many more errors. Many of the distribution maps are inaccurate, and for a book that claims to cover the area from the Bay of Biscay to Norway, it has a distinctly southern bias. Many common and easily identified northern British species are missing, even the lumpsucker. Yet they include the southern seaslug Hypselodoris messinensis, which doesn't occur in Britain as far as we know. And have the authors got something against Wales - what about the seafans and many other southern and western species which occur in Pembrokeshire?
The authors have used a mixture of new and out-of-date scientific names, and many common names have been omitted - why they didnt stick to 'industry standards' set in the Marine Conservation Society's Species Directory? While many of the photos are good, others are too poor for identification purposes (notably many of the seaweeds), and many (dead?) specimens are photographed against a sandy background, giving the wrong impression of their natural habitat.
Amateur naturalists and students studying marine biology cannot put their trust in this guide as it is. Will Oxford University Press withdraw this edition from the shelves until a second and substantially more trustworthy edition is produced? - I doubt it.