Review — Mangō: Sharks and Rays of Aotearoa

Reviewed by Alex Eagles

‘For almost 50 years, ‘the Jaws effect’ has resulted in what psychologists have termed galeophobia — an irrational fear of sharks. Even though statistics show driving to the beach is far more likely to result in injury…’ Alex Eagles reviews this celebration of mangō and whai for young New Zealanders and joins the authors in encouraging others to admire these amazing animals.

When people hear that I’ve taken my children snorkelling with sharks and rays all over the world, they look at me as though I’m crazy, and I am; I’m crazy about sharks and rays, and so are my kids. And now, at last, there is a book for young New Zealanders that celebrates our mangō and whai, encouraging others to share our admiration for these amazing animals.

Thanks to a suggestion from his own shark-loving son, author/illustrator Ned Barraud has teamed up with fish expert Andrew Stewart to create Mangō: Sharks and Rays of Aotearoa.

Stewart, a natural history curator at Te Papa and co-author of the encyclopaedic Fishes of New Zealand, also contributed to Sharks and Rays of New Zealand, released over 25 years ago and aimed at 13+ year olds.

While Mangō is full of enthralling facts, these are arranged in bite-sized blocks, just right for 6-12 year olds, and set afloat amongst fabulous illustrations, including the seaweed where a carpet shark egg case nestles and the open ocean where the largest shark in the world, a 12 metre whale shark (looking like a small underwater plane), feeds on tiny plankton.

Barraud’s favourite part of the book is the fascinating fold-out timeline, which illustrates how sharks began swimming in our seas over four hundred million years ago, even before the first tree appeared and how they have survived five mass extinction events, including the cataclysmic episode that wiped out the dinosaurs. Even though humans have only been around for a fifth of the time, a mere 200,000 years, many species of mangō are now on the brink of extinction due to overfishing, the shark fin trade, pollution and global warming. Sharks are the second most endangered group of animals on the planet, and Barraud voices the very real concern: “Will mangō survive humans?”

For almost 50 years, ‘the Jaws effect’ has resulted in what psychologists have termed galeophobia - an irrational fear of sharks. Even though statistics show driving to the beach is far more likely to result in injury than swimming with one of these amazing creatures, movies that cast the shark as a man-eater and sensationalised news reports continue to fuel anti-shark feelings.

However, people have not always viewed sharks with fear. The book explains how Māori legends tell of sharks guiding waka on journeys across the sea, with ancestors regarding them as guardian spirits, while the Milky Way was said to be created by a shark swimming through the stars after Māui threw it into the sky.

Like the authors, my fascination with sharks also began in childhood. I vividly recall climbing a hill to find myself looking down on our family’s favourite snorkelling spot where a beautiful bronze whaler shark, about twice the size of a man, was following a couple of divers who never noticed their shadow and I realised that the creature had probably been watching me swim around the day before.

Aotearoa has 73 species of sharks found in our waters and I have swum with seven of these, including a mangō taniwha/great white shark. We also have 25 species of rays, and I have swum with eight, including one huge stingray which lay on me like a giant velvet blanket. And then there are the mysterious chimaeras (aka ghost sharks)… but you will have to read about those yourself.

I share the hope of both Barraud and Stewart that Mangō will create a sense of wonder in the next generation of ocean kaitiaki and highlight why these apex predators are so vital to a healthy marine ecosystem. And you never know, maybe an adult or two will also be encouraged to think of these amazing animals in a different light.

Reviewed by Alex Eagles