New stories – on drones, herring and a tech tycoon

December 2014 – versatile

Nathan Myhrvold My profile of the polymathic ex-Microsoft CTO – he’s also the top Tyrannosaurus Rex hunter and author/publisher of Modernist Cuisine, the world’s most expensive cookbook –  is in the January 2015 issue of Intelligent Life

Return of tdog barking at airborne dronehe Silver Darlings I went to the island of Bornholm to hunt down Denmark’s legendary cured herring recipes with Nordic sushi chef Silla Bjerrum – here’s the story in the Guardian

Droning on And for the Observer magazine my dog and I tried to take down 2015’s most invasive suburban annoyance – camera-carrying Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Drones. They can fly in through your letter box. Here’s the story

Dead zones, acid seas and no fish

2 July 2014: My story in Newsweek magazine on the latest science of the rapidly-changing chemistry of the oceans – largely brought about by mankind. None of it’s good news. Unless you like jellyfish.

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On the Boqueria’s fish stands I count 10 types of bivalves—creatures like clams, oysters and mussels that use calcium carbonate to make their endlessly varied shells. In as little as 20 years they will be very different and, in some parts of the world, entirely gone. Then there are the ranks of huge Asian prawns and tiny shrimps, terra-cotta crabs from Scotland, and lobsters, magnificent admirals in blue fringed with gold. Lucky for them, these creatures make their shells differently (mostly out of a polymer called chitin), so the rapidly acidifying waters of our oceans won’t dissolve them as it will the exteriors of the bivalves. But the acidification—which some scientists believe is the fastest change in the ocean’s chemistry in 300 million years—appears to harm the working of the gills and change the behavior of the crustaceans when they are very young.

Read on in Newsweek here

In search of baskers

The Observer Magazine, October 2013:

The basking shark returns to British waters

Basking shark feeding of the Cornish CoastlineAs big as a yacht and with jaws so large it could swallow you whole – it’s little wonder terrified sailors hunted basking sharks almost to extinction. But now they are being seen in growing numbers from Donegal to Cornwall. Alex Renton goes in search of a gentle giant

This summer, on the western edges of Britain and Ireland, was a time of gentle monsters: great black fins parading sedately off the beaches, leviathans floating in warm sea as docile as Granddad on a lilo. From Cornwall to Donegal, local papers ran stories of swimmers’ and kayakers’ encounters with sharks “Bigger than Jaws!” “The size of a bus!” But most of the reports went on to say that the fish – which can indeed grow to 11m, a double-decker’s length – were strangely blasé about the panicky, flapping humans. In fact, they didn’t seem interested at all.

The basking sharks (or the cearban, the muldoan, hoe-mother, the brigdie… every Atlantic coast has its name for them) were back. They were late this year because the sea was colder than usual. They usually appear from May in the southwest, June in the Isle of Man and July in the Hebrides. But when they did turn up it was in great numbers. By August the sharks were swarming up the Scottish coast. Fishing boats and Ribs reported near-misses. On the Oban to Barra run, the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry had to keep a special lookout so the ship could avoid schools of giants cruising the seas at a sedate 3mph. TheShark Trust, which logs sightings, announced record-breaking numbers for Scotland.

Basking sharks are Britain’s elephants, our biggest animals. They’re also our most mysterious. They arrive in herds and then all but disappear for decades. For long periods in the 80s and 90s it was thought they had been fished nearly to extinction. (It wasn’t until 1998 that hunting them was outlawed.) Behind most of the Atlantic coast’s myths of water monsters and sea snakes lie basking sharks, with their weird snouts and confusing skeletal remains. The long claspers – the male sexual organs – can look like a pair of legs, and decomposing baskers fooled several 19th-century naturalists into announcing the discovery of new species.

Read the rest of this article  at Guardian Online (free)

Giorgio Locatelli’s catch of the day

20th June 2010, The Observer

From working on a Cornish trawler to cooking a memorable meal on the quayside at Looe, Giorgio Locatelli follows his fish from the net to the plate.

We are rescuing fish. Giorgio Locatelli, his head chef Federico Sali and I are at the back of the trawler, elbow-deep in slime and scales, picking among the discards from the just-hauled net. We work fast: fish are dying here! A cascade of the unsellable and undersized – dogfish, baby sole and plaice, shad and whiting – is flying off the back of the boat into the water. Things the Italians can see good uses for – a lone scallop, a few ink-stained cuttlefish, a big red crab – go in a fish box. “We could have a fantastic meal with this lot right now,” says Giorgio. “If only we’d brought a pan.”

Read on at the Guardian website