“A Cabinet of Natural and Artificial Curiosities”

A memory. I am at the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The museum's roots date to 1799. Though relatively small, the library holds one of the country's great maritime history collections, especially significant for understanding the period just after the American Revolution, when Salem was a thriving seaport that was growing rich in what was called the East Indies and Old China trades.

The Shark Factory

When I learned about Russell Coles and the shark factory in Morehead City, N.C., I thought immediately of the first pages of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, when all the fishermen have returned to shore in a Cuban port and are cleaning and packing their catches....

The Fate of Sharks

Now, only a century later, those who study sharks-- as with so much of the world's fauna-- seem to spend most of their time like me, a historian: chronicling extinctions and warning of coming extinctions, as if Russell Coles' lust for conquering nature had spread throughout the world.

An Ichthyologist is Born

In Russell Coles’ day, many ichthyologists—biologists that study fish—had never actually seen sharks in the wild. Coles offered such scientists the twin possibilities of studying sharks in their native habitat at Cape Lookout and of expanding their collections for study in some of the most prestigious natural history museums in the world.