“Chasing Shadows” by Ret Talbot. Courtesy photo/Ret Talbot

Renowned independent journalist and writer Ret Talbot is set to deliver a lecture at the Scarborough Library on March 19 from 6 to 7 p.m. Talbot is known for his insightful coverage of ocean issues and animals, particularly at the intersection of science and sustainability.

Talbot’s latest literary endeavor, “Chasing Shadows,” co-authored with shark biologist Greg Skomal, sheds light on conservation success stories. The book chronicles the remarkable restoration of an apex predator, the white shark, within an ecosystem. Through the lens of a scientist, Talbot weaves a narrative of triumph and ecological significance.

“Starting in 2007, I stopped teaching and began writing full-time as a freelance science writer,” Talbot said. “Many of my first assignments were based on fisheries, especially the fisheries of the remote island nations of the Indo-Pacific that were just entering global markets through resource extraction industries like fisheries.”

“When I moved to Maine in 2012,” he said, “I began to focus more on New England fisheries and the notion of sustainability, a term that was so ubiquitous in fisheries management and marketing that it was losing its meaning.” Talbot said he again turned to science and data to try to define sustainability. He said he finds himself asking bigger and bigger questions and trying to answer them through specific stories like “Chasing Shadows.”

The book came about from a fortuitous collaboration amid the challenges of the pandemic, Talbot said. “The greatest challenge was, without a doubt, the pandemic. As a science writer, my happy place is embedded in the field with scientists observing their work, asking questions and then telling that story to a broader audience through narrative nonfiction.”

“Working on the illustrations in’ ‘Chasing Shadows’ was, with the exception of the one scientific illustration of a white shark, a little different than what I usually do,” said his wife Karen who is a scientific illustrator. “My role was to create spot art for the beginning of each chapter, as well as full page art at the beginning of each of the book’s three parts. Hopefully my spot art lends some character to the book, and the full-page illustrations of lighthouses help to establish the geographical narrative of the book. ”


She said there is a symbiotic relationship between scientific illustration and conservation advocacy. “In many ways, what Ret and I do professionally is very similar,” she said. “For me, it’s accurately capturing the number of scales along the lateral line of fish or the number of rays and spines in its fins, but it’s also about engaging people about the conservation status of a species about which they may never have thought.”

Drawing from his extensive portfolio, which includes contributions to publications such as Discover Magazine, National Geographic, Mongabay, and Yale Environment 360, Ret Talbot said his approach to engaging readers with complex scientific and environmental topics “is to report out stories from the field and then to bring the reader into the field through narrative. Once you place readers in the field, introduce them to interesting characters, and help them see the human-interest aspect of the science, hopefully, they are hooked and will be willing to go the distance when it comes to the all-important science and data.”

Navigating the terrain of conservation journalism isn’t always easy, Ret Talbot said. But he said he’s committed to objectivity and balance, even amidst topics that evoke strong emotions and polarized opinions.

“We bring our own experiences to every story we write, and we’d be lying to ourselves and our readers if we said that lens doesn’t affect our reporting,” he said. “Still, we try, and that is important. For me, it really comes down to the data. As a science writer, I have the peer-reviewed literature, the data, and the scientific process itself to ground my work.”

Ret and Karen at Bethel Inland Woods and Trails. Courtesy photo/Ret and Karen Talbot

Ret Talbot’s Solomons shoot. He was sent to the Solomon Islands by an editor who had heard about a group of women who were coral farming (mariculture). He spent a couple weeks living in a remote village in Marau Sound on Guadalcanal documenting these women and their work. Courtesy photo/Ret and Karen Talbot

Ret Talbot’s photo shoot at the Solomon Islands. Courtesy photo/Karen and Ret Talbot

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