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Warner, William W. Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs, and the Chesapeake Bay. Boston: Little Brown, 1976.
The Chesapeake Bay crabbing industry received national notice through William Warner's Beautiful Swimmers. Written in narrative form, Warner weaves together the stories of the Bay's watermen with a substantial amount of information about the biology and habits of the crabs themselves. Crabbers work in all weather and throughout the Bay. Techniques for harvesting crabs vary from month to month according to region, weather and a crabber's preference. While the ways of the watermen are a significant portion of this book, the crab is definitely the central character. Warner writes "the biology of the blue crab is interesting and complex, characterized by season migrations, sophisticated mating practices and a number of less understood phenomena." Of the waterman, he continues, "Correspondingly, the watermen have over the years developed a bewildering array of special gear and techniques trying to outguess and outsmart the crab." The conversations between the author and the Bay's crabbers reveals the ambiguous relationship of respect and individual rights through which the watermen connect with their prey and the Bay in general. Warner's writing reveals the respect he gains for both of these agents in the Bay. Beautiful Swimmers presents an interesting cultural landscape because of the clear illustration of the crab's (and therefore nature's) influence on the people who work the waters and crabbers effects on the rest of the Bay's creatures and environment as they perform the harvest. What do crabbers do out of season? They go oyster tonging. Warner provides some insight into the oyster, the work of tonging and the packing industry. When virtually no crabs will enter a baitless crab pot in July, why for two weeks in late spring will a dozen immature female crabs enter the same pot if there is a mature male inside? In 1976 scientists didn't have an answer but the watermen knew. Beautiful Swimmers walks the fine line found in conservationist measures between conservation of the Bay and its creatures and an appreciation for the ways of the waterman. [M. Enloe]