Meet Lydia, the shark who crossed the mid-Atlantic ridge, sketched a self-portrait with her tracking data, and helped age bourbon into a smooth temptation for on-board researchers.
Lydia is a 14-foot (4.4-meter) great white shark who was caught and tagged off the coast of Florida in March 2013. The transponder Ocearch placed on Lydia broadcasts every time she surfaces, helping the organization track her travels. Ocearch uses these transponders on great whites and other apex predators as part of ongoing research collaborations to guide conservation efforts.
After swimming around for months, Lydia took a break by sketching a self-portrait with her tracking data. She then wandered northeast, making headlines this week for being the first great white tracked heading from one side of the mid-ocean ridge to the other. That means she’s gone from the west Atlantic to the east, into colder waters we weren’t even sure her species tolerated. At last check, she’s been coasting north along the ridge, happily nibbling on a mid-ocean snack. You can use Ocearch’s realtime shark-tracking app or visit their website to see how much farther she’s gone in the time between when I wrote this and when you read it. Considering she’s covered over 20,000 nautical miles in three months, I fully expect my static map to be woefully outdated quite quickly.
Ocearch isn’t just a bad-ass shark-research-facilitating organization providing glorious tracking data for apex predator conservation. Nah, they also store casts of bourbon in their boat hulls. Why? Because a bourbon-distilling high-school buddy asked them to.
The combination of gentle rocking with the tropical climates that Ocearch’s vessels visit while stalking sharks are an excellent combination to accelerate the aging process. In particular, large temperature swings with expansion of the wooden barrels in hot weather and contraction in colder weather leads to greater extraction flavour and colour from the wood into the bourbon. The result is that by the time a set of barrels make it through three-and-a-half years and 10,000 nautical miles on-board, the bourbon is dark, briny, and delicious. So, when Ocearch picked Lydia up last March for tagging, they had some bourbon stored below-deck.
Comparing booze to sharks, Lydia has travelled twice as far in less than a third of the time. Both her and the barrels have been on the deck of Ocearch’s vessels: Lydia while awaiting her tag, and the barrels while en route to the hold. Finally, both have first-hand experience with surveillance culture: Lydia’s every surface movement is reported to researchers and curious onlookers trying to guess her motivations, and the barrels of bourbon are under a camera’s watchful eye to ensure the crew doesn’t sneak snips of the fancy brew. That’s not a bad list of commonalities between a large, wiggly living creature, and a sloshing fluid with intoxicating characteristics.
So, next time you have a bourbon, raise a toast to Lydia, the trans-Atlantic shark. And next time you sit down to admire Lydia’s ever-growing tracking data, grab yourself a dark, salty bourbon to sip. Sharks and booze: a fantastic combination
Read more on either story on NPR, who have covered Lydia’s potential pregnancy and the story of how high-school friends brought bourbon back to the high seas. All images credit Ocearch, particularly Robert Snow. Special appreciation to Ben Young Landis (@younglandis) and Chuck Bangley (@SpinyDag) for being my news feed for all things fish- and/or shark-related. Feeling creative? Keep adding to the list of things sharks and booze have in common — I’ve got at least two more similarities that didn’t make the final draft, and I’d love to see your clever additions.