The Strangeness of the Mainland

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I am back from a few days on Appledore Island, a severely gorgeous patch of rock and scrub ten miles off the coast of Maine. Cornell and the University of New Hampshire run a marine biology station there called Shoals Marine Lab, where students come for crash courses on all things marine, from sustainable fisheries to shark biology. Last year I came to give a talk about evolution; this year I was back to talk to students about writing about science. I pulled out some of my marine stories to discuss, on topics such as moray eels that are weirder than science fiction and the mindless intelligence of fish swarms.

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When I wasn’t wandering around the island with our kids in search of mermaids, I paid a couple visits to the shark class, where students were poking and prodding a bunch of specimens. I learned from the instructors about the electric organs hammerhead sharks have in their hammerheads, which they can use to detect the stingrays hidden in the sand. I had never held a hammerhead shark in my hand before–now I have.

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Now I’m back on the mainland, where it’s strange not to see the ocean everpresent in the distance. I’m working up my talk I’ll be giving Tuesday at the Chautauqua Institute as part of their celebration of Linnaeus and Darwin. Fora.tv puts a lot of Chautaqua talks on line–I’ll let you know if mine goes up. So back to the computer, and to daydreaming about rainy islands and handheld sharks.