David C. Powell
A Fascination for Fish
Adventures of an Underwater Pioneer

UC Press/Monterey Bay Aquarium Series in Marine Conservation, 3
With a foreword by Sylvia A. Earle


Publication Date:

March 2001


354 pages, 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches, 51 b/w photographs, 1 line illustration, 1 map


Science; Marine and Freshwater Sciences; Environmental Studies; Autobiography




$29.95  0-520-22366-7  £19.95

UC Press


"[Powell is] an engaging writer, sweeping us up in his enthusiasm for his subject, showing us the alien undersea world in a way we've never seen it before. We learn plenty from him, and yet it never feels as if he's trying to teach us anything. An excellent autobiography and an impassioned plea for the preservation of marine life."--Booklist

"Powell's breezy, anecdotal writing style is easy to read and informative without being ponderous, and readers will appreciate his giving the scientific names of all the animals mentioned. This book does for aquariums what John Sedgwick's 'Peaceable Kingdom' did for zoos."--Library Journal

"This book makes excellent reading for anybody interested in fish and people."--New Scientist

"An engaging memoir by marine biologist Powell recounts how he went from a college student keeping an octopus in his living room to become a designer of great modern aquariums, including California's Monterey Bay Aquarium."--Discover magazine

"This autobiography is a charming and accurate telling by a modest man whose brilliant career has allowed millions to venture into the sea and feel what Dave feels when he's underwater--without getting wet!"--John E. McCosker, Director Emeritus, Steinhart Aquarium, San Francisco

"Dave Powell is one of the giants in the development of the modern public aquarium. His great talents and skill have come from years of working with the technology of public aquariums, and also from a great love of the sea. This book is a wonderful tale of his adventures (and misadventures) as he worked to capture the essence of the ocean and bring it to public view."--Bruce Carlson, Director, Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu

"Gobies, jellyfish, coelacanth, white sharks--it's all here. A delightfully written book detailing the experiences of the most innovative aquarist of our time. This book is a must read for anyone fascinated by looking through an aquarium viewing window."--Jerry Goldsmith, Vice President, SeaWorld of California


This engaging memoir presents one man's lifelong love of the ocean and gives a highly personal, behind-the-scenes look at California's magnificent and innovative aquariums. David Powell, for many years curator of the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium, tells the story of his life as a pioneering aquarist. From handling great white sharks to transporting delicate fish on bumpy airplanes to night diving for fish in the Indian Ocean, A Fascination for Fish describes many of the mind-boggling challenges that make modern aquariums possible and offers an intriguing glimpse beneath the ocean's surface.

Powell's career in diving and aquarium development goes back to the beginning of modern methods in both areas. From the early techniques he devised to get fish into aquariums alive and healthy to his later exploratory dive to a depth of eleven hundred feet in a two-person submarine, Powell's action-packed narrative inspires laughter, wonder, and philosophical reflection. A Fascination for Fish also includes many stories about Powell's diving adventures on the California coast, in the Sea of Cortez, and in many remote and exotic locations around the world.

Foreword, by Sylvia A. Earle
1. Underwater Thoughts
2. Marineland of the Pacific
3. A First Look at Realism
4. The Road to Gonzaga Bay
5. The Steinhart Aquarium
6. Adventure in the Sea of Cortez
7. Sea World
8. Carnival in Mazatlan
9. The Lure of Sharks
10. Tanner Bank and Mexico Expo
11. The Revillagigedo Islands
12. Roundabout to Steinhart Aquarium
13. Search for a Living Fossil
14. To Chile, Easter Island, and Rarotonga
15. Monterey Bay Aquarium
16. Creating the Exhibits
17. Aquarists at Work
18.Collecting the Fish
19. Always Something New
20. The Open Ocean
21. Pelagic Fishes
22. A Million-Gallon Fishbowl
23. A New Direction
Selected Reading

David C. Powell consults on aquarium design around the world. He was Director of Live Exhibit Development at the Monterey Bay Aquarium until his retirement in 1997. He was also Curator of the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco and Curator of Fishes at Sea World in San Diego. Distinguished oceanographer Sylvia A. Earle is Chair of DOER Marine Operations, a designer of manned and robotic sub-sea systems.

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May 2005