I first learned about sharks from nature books and television shows. Later I saw them in aquariums, and then of course there was Jaws, the novel and movie. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to encounter many species of sharks in their natural environment, and it’s always been a fascinating experience.
The importance of sharks, aside from being creatures with as much right to live as any other, is basically two-fold: One, they are seafood fish consumed around the globe.Two, they occupy key ecological niches in marine ecosystems everywhere, including that of apex predator.
Sharks have retained the same basic form for a quarter of a million years. Perfect living machines, doing what they do. Also, the bull shark has more testosterone than any other animal!
“Serpents, bears, hyenas, tigers, rapidly vanish as civilization advances, but the most populous and civilized city cannot scare a shark far from its wharves.“–Henry David Thoreau.
My wife and I were part of a dive group scuba diving in the Blue Hole of Belize, which is about 450 feet deep (its labyrinth of passageways was famously explored by Cousteau). We were at about 100 feet, on the way down to the stalactite caverns, when we saw three sharks the local divemaster said were bull sharks, circling in the center of the hole, about 70 feet from us. They paid no attention to us or the yellowtail snappers around us, just kept circling in figure eight patterns. We descended to the caverns at 137 feet, and shortly afterward ascended. The sharks were still in the middle of the Blue Hole, circling. They’re probably still there now!
I love sharks! Here’s a brief account of all the sharks I’ve seen in the wild, how and where: blue shark, night snorkeling Catalina Island; basking shark, from the deck of a whale watch boat in the channel between Catalina Island and Long Beach; baby leopard sharks in a few inches of water at Santa Monica Beach; horn sharks and swell sharks while scuba diving rocky ledges all over southern California, and the amazing egg cases of these creatures where the tiny embryo can be seen through the case, attached by an umbilical to a yolk sac; a huge angel shark 110′ down off Catalina that scared me because I scared it–it flew up out of the sand and left us in a big sand cloud; circling bull sharks deep in the Blue Hole of Belize–they stuck to the middle of the hole while we divers clung to the stalactite caverns on the sides; countless nurse sharks while snorkeling in the Florida keys and in Belize; Sandbar and Galapagos sharks during the only shark cage dive I’ve done, off the north shore of Oahu (yes, they chum the water to attract the sharks, and yes it’s a controversial practice); a bonnethead shark in three-foot deep water near Tom’s Harbor Key, Florida Keys, spotted from my small Zodiac inflatable boat; a group of three sleeping whitetip sharks underneath the hull of a shipwreck, as seen from the Atlantis submarine off Waikiki at a depth of 100 feet; small blacktip reef sharks seen while surfing the outer reefs of Waikiki, their dorsal fins piercing the surface of the water as they thrash about the reef; a school of hammerhead sharks cruising the deep water well away from the wall we were diving in Fiji; I feel extraordinarily lucky to have witnessed all of these sharks in their natural habitats.
The practice of shark finning is both wasteful and inhumane, and should be outlawed everywhere.
Here’s a 6-pack of my Youtube shark videos (videos taken by me; warning: video quality is not great, but I got what I got!):
Hawaii shark cage dive:
Bull sharks in Belize’s Blue Hole:
Shark Ray alley, Belize:
Florida Keys nurse shark:
Huge sawfish, Bahamas:
What are some of your experiences with sharks?
Strange topic for a writing/book blog, you ask? Perhaps. But let’s think about solar energy for a minute. Hailed since the 1970s as the Next Big Thing, decades have passed and solar still remains the red-headed stepchild of the energy world. We haven’t run out of oil yet, there are other forms of alternative energy such as wind power and more exotic solutions like algae biofuels, etc. But beneath all the hype, solar energy has quietly been forging ahead. Technology has advanced significantly from the clunky panels of yesteryear. In California, huge billion-dollar solar farms have been sprouting up in the mojave desert.
I been thinking a lot about solar power lately because my new thriller, SOLAR ISLAND, releases in 10 days on December 11, 2012, from Seven Realms Publishing. A description is available on my website:
Writing a thriller about solar power was tricky because there is a fine line between including enough technical detail to remain convincing, but not so much that the reader feels like they’ve waded into a textbook.
What’s your experience with solar power? Do you have any panels on your house or do they make the property look too industrial? Anyone have one of those portable solar chargers for your smartphone?
I may not be certain how the world will meet its energy needs going forward, but I do know one thing: the sun will still be around. it makes sense, therefore, to learn to make use of its natural energy.
Thanks for reading!
I sat down to write a blog post, but nothing I was going to write about seemed as significant as the events that transpired on the east coast this week. In lieu of a business-as-usual post, I would like to take this moment to reflect on the tragedy that Hurricane Sandy brought to so many. The storm has passed, but in its wake is devastation and, for some, misery, that will take a lifetime from which to recover. With the official U.S. death toll reaching 74 at the time of this writing, and monetary damages initially estimated at $15-20 billion, now revised upward to as high as $50 billion, it’s clear that the eastern seaboard will never be the same.
Pictures, before and after:
As more and more individual stories emerge from the superstorm, one stands out to me in particular. From the “what the heck was he thinking” file, the mind-boggling account of the captain of the HMS Bounty replica ship who decided to set sail from Connecticut bound for Florida on Monday morning with an inexperienced crew in a 50-year-old ship based on a 250-year-old-design:
The captain himself has still not been found, and one crew member is dead. The other fourteen crew survived after a risky rescue off North Carolina by the Coast Guard:
I doubt that way back in 1789, when Christian Fletcher decided to wrest Her Majesty’s Ship from its captain, William Bligh, that he could have imagined in 223 years sailors would still be losing their lives at sea on the Bounty.
Wishing the best to all those affected by Sandy,
Since my debut novel (thriller Wired Kingdom) prominently features a whale, I decided to focus this post on whales. I’ll share a few of my personal experiences with them as well as what made me want to write about them in my book.
Allow me to begin by providing a brief description of the story:
When a blue whale tagged with a web-cam designed with stolen defense technology broadcasts a brutal murder at sea as part of a television nature program, Special Agent Tara Shores finds herself navigating an ocean of manipulation and deceit in a deadly race to reach the 100-ton creature roaming the Pacific before an unknown killer can destroy the digital evidence it carries.
You can view a book trailer for the novel here:
So, at its heart, Wired Kingdom is a whodunit murder mystery where a whale harbors a key piece of evidence in the case. In some early drafts of the story I even had the web-cam on different kinds of animals, such as a shark, but there was something about whales that just made the most sense. They’re big, formidable animals if one needs to confront one, but they are also beautiful, majestic creatures that have come back from the brink of extinction after nearly being hunted from the Earth. Many people feel a certain empathy for them, a sentiment that figures prominently in the novel.
As someone with a degree in marine science, I have spent time formally studying whales and the environment in which they live. But reading about them alone doesn’t begin to do justice to these mysterious creatures. To truly appreciate them, one needs to see them in their natural environment, which I have been fortunate enough to do on several occasions throughout my life. Below I will share a few videos I’ve taken of whales in different parts of the world.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaIhSVrr52k This is a video of a humpback whale in Hawaii. I took this while on a whale watching boat called the Navatek, on the island of Oahu. Can you see the calf by her mother’s side? You can hear the screams of the excited passengers when the whale breaches, or jumps out of the water. No one is exactly sure why whales breach. It may be just for the fun of it, or perhaps to shake loose parasites.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9Dc2j844mY This clip shows a gray whale off Los Angeles, which I took from another whale watch out of Marina del Rey (where, incidentally, part of the story for Wired Kingdom is set). Grays are famous for their annual migration from Alaska to Mexico, where they give birth.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_mPHwGLpDo This is a special clip, not for what you can see, but for what you can hear. My wife shot this when we were scuba diving on a shipwreck in Hawaii (yes, that’s me diving in the video). The sounds you can hear are the songs of humpback whales! We could hear them all around us throughout the dive, although we never saw one.
Note that I don’t have any blue whale shots—I haven’t been lucky enough to see one of those in the wild—yet—but that’s part of what made them so alluring to me, and so worthy of being a main character in Wired Kingdom. That, and the fact that they are the largest animals ever to have lived on our planet.
These types of whale encounters have been a source of inspiration for me as I wrote Wired Kingdom, and which helped me to inject a dose of realism into the story’s pages. I hope that this post has stirred your imagination enough to make you want to learn more about whales for yourself!
Thanks for reading.
The 1960s was a decade of incredible human accomplishments, and I’m not talking about the music. Or the drugs. I’m talking about the physical exploration of the real world—the universe—as well as the pride in showcasing American science & technology, the “because-it’s-there” attitude that satisfied the curiosity of a nation when that nation thought it was great to have those clunky color TVs with their handful of channels in their living rooms.
In 1969 the first humans ever to step foot on the moon did so from a U.S. government spacecraft called the Eagle. And space wasn’t the only exploration front in that decade. In 1960, the first humans ever to reach the deepest part of the ocean did so in a simple but rugged U.S. Navy submersible called the Trieste. This latter accomplishment was greatly overshadowed by the moon landing, but in retrospect was nevertheless a milestone accomplishment for human ingenuity and expanding our species’ physical presence. In a mere 10 years we managed, through extraordinary technical innovation and a striking spirit of adventure, to visit two places that had eluded all of humanity.
Little I suppose the men in the sub that day knew, it would be over a half-century later before a man would visit the true bottom of the sea again. And the moon? Almost 40 years later, we still haven’t been back. Robotic vehicles have been to both the moon and the Challenger Deep, but the last moon landing with humans was in 1973, and the rest of the ‘70s played out without further exploratory milestones. The 1980s came and went, with a new space shuttle system to dog-paddle around in near-Earth orbit for a few decades. We saw the International Space Station (ISS) and underwater submersibles that would remotely visit the Mariana Trench and take people to culturally interesting underwater sites such as the Titanic‘s resting place. But no more major “first-visit” human milestones. Same for the ‘90s and the 2010s, where robotic exploration marched forward while humans stayed behind to watch from their screens. Interesting as well as useful, but it doesn’t captivate the public’s imagination in the same way that human presence can, which may be part of the reason for NASA’s declining funding throughout that period.
But this year, a human once again visited the bottom of our planet. James Cameron, in his private sub, Deepsea Challenger, reached the ocean’s deepest point on March 25. The moon? Apparently out of reach for now, but this year we also saw the first time a private spaceship, Space X’s Dragon, successfully delivered cargo to the ISS, not to mention that Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is now taking reservations for would-be space tourists. So it seems we’re on the way to repeat the old exploration milestones, but this time with private vehicles and programs. Faster, better, cheaper, and without governments. But the next real “first” still awaits. Odds are, though, it will be a privately funded venture rather than a government mission, and a high percentage of people will watch it on a smartphone instead of the ole’ RCA or Zenith, where a galaxy of YouTube videos will compete for their attention.
What do you think? Will the next human to set foot on the moon be part of a private expedition or a government sponsored program?