Archive for April, 2011

When In Stockholm, Run

It’s Easter Sunday in Stockholm. Eighty percent of the city is shut down for the long holiday weekend, but the Swedes who haven’t Volvo-ed off to their country cottages are playing outside, letting the sun bake their newly exposed skin. After an Arctic journey that looked like this for a few days (read more about it the January 2012 issue of Outside),

I celebrate the sun by taking a run. In Stockholm, that’s easy. From the Clarion Hotel Sign, a sleek centerpiece of Scandinavian architecture, I head down the Kungsgatan to the Kungsholms Strand, a recreation path that follows the placid water of the Barnhusviken. I run past pale blooms sprouting on the willow trees, teak houseboats, and normally stoic Swedes who can’t hide their happiness that spring has finally arrived. Afterward, I find a hanging bubble chair on the Clarion’s rooftop deck that twists toward views of centuries-old church spires and listen to the lyrics of the lounge music—”You make me want to tell the whole world about love….” But, really, today I just want to tell the whole world about Sweden.

Canary Sharks

Last week while reporting a story in Miami I spent a day on a 46-foot dive boat in the Gulf of Mexico observing (and supposedly “helping”) Neil Hammerschlag and his crew of PhD students and undergrads tag sharks. The director of the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, Hammerschlag, 31, is the youngest professor at the University of Miami and operates the largest shark-tagging program on the East Coast. By attaching real-time satellite tags to approximately 60 sharks’ fins, Hammerschlag and his crew can constantly track the fish, allowing them to “spy on the secret lives of sharks.”

His findings have been illuminating. “These animals go places where we never thought they’d go,” Hammerschlag says. For example, he found that hammerhead sharks move through the Gulfstream as far north to the same latitude as New York. Researchers previously thought they swam only as far as North Carolina. Hammerschlag has also found prime areas where the sharks feed and breed, which makes them vulnerable to overfishing.

“Sharks are the canary in the coalmine,” says Hammerschlag. “They’re at the top of the food chain, the most feared animal on the planet, and a great celebrity species to lead the charge for conservation.”

To that end Hammerschlag has taken more than 1,000 high school students—many of whom have never stepped foot on a boat—shark tagging to show them the important role sharks play in the ocean’s ecosystem. Before they even leave the shore, he tells them the grim realities the sharks face:

“Today alone, 270,000 sharks will be fished,” he says, “mostly sold to Asian markets for their fins.”