Day 37: 08/01/2013: The Secret Lives of Fish

As I work more on the “Jaws” benefit, I’m reflecting on our relationship to fish. While generating empathy for sharks can be tricky, it’s pretty difficult to get people to feel much about fish in general.  Are they lower than reptiles on the human empathy scale ?

Does it depend on how pretty they are?  Or are all fish “forever other” to us?

This fish at the Liberty Aquarium lives in a kind of solitary confinement:


Across the aisle, these fish teem and roil in their too-small aquarium:


“Sea horses have complicated routines for courtship, and tend to mate under full moons, making musical sounds while doing so. They live in long-term monogamous partnerships. What is perhaps most unusual, though, is that it is the male sea horse that carries the young for up to six weeks. Males become properly “pregnant,” not only carrying, but fertilizing and nourishing the developing eggs with fluid secretions. The image of males giving birth is perpetually mind-blowing: a turbid liquid bursts forth from the brood pouch, and like magic, minuscule but fully formed sea horses appear out of the cloud.”

Once I remember commenting to a shopkeeper on the popularity of the octopus. “They’re everywhere,” I said. “On pillows and t-shirts, rings and necklaces.”

She nodded. “Yeah well, that’s what often becomes popular. What’s disappearing.”

I never expected to hear such haunting words in a hipster boutique in Silverlake. And later, when I saw someone eating octopus at a restaurant, the poignant tentacle on the plate reminded me of the story Cousteau told about the octopus who could see his own reflection in a mirror the researchers presented him with.  Puzzled, the creature tried very hard to wipe away his own reflection.

I wish these dazzling little stories were enough to change the world. I wish sad pictures were enough or knowing that the seas are not an infinite resource was enough.  I wish startling facts were enough like Foer’s description of the real cost of sushi:

“Imagine being served a plate of sushi. But this plate also holds all of the animals that were killed for your serving of sushi. The plate might have to be five feet across.”

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