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Book Review:

Southeast Asia Tropical Fish Guide

1994, Tetra-Press

Rudie H. Kuiter & Helmut Debelius

321 pages, suggested retail?

Bob Fenner  


My Book Report

For my book report I chose the Southeast Asia Tropical Fish Guide, with "over 1,000 photographs of marine fishes taken in their natural habitat".

Rudie and Helmut went on some excellent diving adventures in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Andaman Sea.

They took pictures of fishes; lots of pictures of lots of fishes... Helmut came back home to Germany and put them in a photo book with Tetra-Press.

The End.

This recent Guide is an attempt to be both a pet-fish and diver identification source. Having tried to do both myself; I can testify, "it's not easy". The effort to combine the two in purpose reminds me of bikes and motorcycles that are intended for both on/off road use. Too many compromises and function and enjoyment are compromised.

My Gripes:

What little text there is touches only barely on issues of aquarium importance; and it's written in a funky, hard-to-follow Deutschland non-transliterated language; Gerlish/Engman? Where are the editorial and translation credits? Perhaps there's none so no one will be credited/blamed?

HD knows better than what's presented here; he has a few other good "aquarists texts" to his credit, including the 1984 Armoured Knights of the Sea and the senior authoring of Baensch's Marine Atlas, Volume 1.

I can't believe this is a Tetra(Press) effort either. There are many (hundreds) of mis-spelling, syntax, grammatical and other editorial faults. To top it off, there are no references or citations? What is this unfinished...?

The butterflyfishes, family Chaetodontidae (p. 174) are described as "being... comprised of 10 genera and about 120 species". Then in the same paragraph the genus Chaetodon(sic)tidae is identified with 114 species, Heniochus with eight and the remaining genera? This doesn't add up!

Some Good:

As grandmothers everywhere are wont to say, "If you don't have something nice to say (or write), don't write at all".

Okay grandma. There are many great images in this book, including habitat pix, juvenile/adult pictures of some common and obscure species, (including all batfish species) & useful insights into what other people on the planet use for common names. I really like the German's choices for the two yellow butterflyfishes; calling Forcipiger flavissimus the long-nose butterfly and F. longirostris the very-long-nose butterfly.

There are several worthwhile natural history and collection notes as well. An example is encouraging that some (the larger) clownfishes collected off their symbiotic anemones (no, they're not cyanided) be left to repopulate the area.

Take A Sad Song...:

What would I do to improve this book? Much, but it wouldn't take that much effort. It's a crying shame that someone who knows and cares about the subject and speaks and reads English didn't review/edit this book. Ninety nine point nine percent plus of the work is done; with just a little conscientious re-writing this book's usefulness and commercial success would be increased ten fold.

Kuiter and Debelius are shown with their underwater cameras, but how about some notes on underwater photography? As stated in the Introduction, "The main purpose of this book is to learn about fishes and encourage those with a camera to keep at the greatest challenge... photographing fishes." Come on, you guys; follow through.

Some books are made to be read, others to be used; unfortunately this one falls short of either possibility.


I do encourage serious biotopic marine aquarists and more-than-casual divers to these areas to peruse this book. The authors have made a remarkable start at a pictorial catalog of fishes in Southeast Asia; I concur with their estimates that there are more than 3,000 species of reef fishes alone in the region. There are many ranges to be extended and new species of fishes to be described by the intrepid diver/discoverer... and better books to be written about them.

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