In depth

2nd December 1994 at 00:00
Recent discoveries in the deep oceans have revealed a world of bizarre creatures that puts us in awe of the sheer variety and adaptability of living things. Only one and a half per cent of the oceans have been explored. No wonder science fiction writers find the deep seas a source of inspiration.

The Secret Oceans is a visual odyssey about the submarine Turtle and its somewhat improbable crew of five. There's the captain (Kate Kominsky, Russian Navy, retired), Dr David Schlessinger (world famous doctor-scientist-professor), his two adopted genius level children and a reporterphotographer who is also skilled in medicine. The children alone would alienate many readers in the nine to 14 age bracket as their interests (speaking eight languages, electronic wizardry and classical music) are hardly those that appeal to the streetwise.

The crew begin their adventures on February 16 2000 A.D. when they dive in a location unknown to anyone else. When they reach 5000 feet (not fathoms) giant squid and whales guide them to an encounter with three "kind and honourable creatures who are far more intelligent than us". These dolphin-like animals are named cetaspians and they establish rapport with the crew using computer controlled devices. It is when the cetaspians show the crew the wonders of the underwater world that the book comes into its own. The many full-coloured illustrations are a mix of the scientifically accurate and the imaginative. Present-day organisms are accurately represented and the imagery is supplemented by descriptions of their structure and behaviour.

The story conveys subtle messages about environmental damage and the preservation of ecosystems and endangered species. Betty Ballantine has produced an unusual book which may open some children's eyes to the wonderful world of underwater life.

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