What would Flipper do? Fish Stories

by Yule Heibel on April 14, 2003

I came across an article the other day in AlterNet, A Dolphin Disses War, about Atlantic bottlenose dolphins trained to clear mines from the waters off Umm Qasr and other areas. The article’s voice is that of Flipper O’Reilly, also known as K-Dog, who spills the beans on the dirty tricks he and his fellow sea mammals have engaged in, including being weaponized and being used in experiments to test the Navy’s low-frequency active sonar’s effect on sea creatures. K-Dog tells us he had some temporary hearing loss (unlike the whales that ended up dead), and that the Navy now wants Congress to grant it exemptions from the Marine Mammal Protection Act. K-Dog wonders when he’s going to be released from the supposedly all-volunteer fighting forces: “I’m not denying I’m good at my job hunting mines. We’ve found a bunch. But you know, so are a new generation of AUVs, autonomous underwater vehicles, or robot subs. The Navy says they need a full range of options but I don’t see the Air Force supplementing their predator drones with camera-toting bald eagles, or the army employing tigers to guard their tanks. Still the Navy plans to hang on to us for what they call ‘the foreseeable future.’ I mean I hate to say this, but this isn’ really our war. This is a human thing. So while I keep my fixed grin for the man, inside I keep wondering, when does our tour of duty end?”

Perhaps the dolphins could revolt and shut down some fish farms.

My provincial government here in BC has gone out of its way to encourage fish farming, particularly in the protected waters of the Broughton Archipelago, an area of islands and fjords located between the mainland, the Queen Charlotte Strait, Johnstone Strait, and Vancouver Island. Approximately 20 fish farms are clustered there, and the fish are routinely infested with millions of sea lice. Scientists generally agree that the lice from the fish farms, which are located at the entry points of rivers and streams leading to wild salmon spawning grounds, prey on the young wild smolts that make their way downstream to the open ocean. The smolts cannot survive the massive infestation and die, breaking the chain that ensures a return of spawning salmon in the following year. BC has already experienced a huge drop in the number of wild pink salmon that returned to spawn in the area last year: while 3.6 million returned in 2000, only 147,000 returned last year. Pinks are literally facing extinction at this rate, and other wild salmon species are also affected. Indigenous species have already crashed in other fish farm impacted countries, such as Scotland and Norway, and they are doing so here.

But if that isn’t enough, consider this bit of news from VESO, the National Centre for Veterinary Contract Research and Commercial Services, Cataracts in farmed fish (April 13, 2003): farmed fish are commonly plagued by cataracts that blind them. Now, this wouldn’t be a big deal for the industry if it weren’t the case that blind fish can’t eat, and therefore die off before they reach full harvesting maturity, thereby cutting into the profit margin. But consider it the next time you’re in the supermarket or restaurant, about to purchase salmon. Ask if it was farmed. If it was, buy something else. Picture in your mind’s eye the fact that the pens have up to 40,000 fish in them, and that in some cases the entire population is blind. You are what you eat.

And then consider this: Europe has banned the use of ground up BSE infected cows as feed for farmed fish, in part because scientists worried that the toxins in the feed were causing the cataracts (they weren’t, and the scientists still don’t know what causes them). It’s a fairly recent regulation, though, and I don’t know that North America has banned ground up animals as fish food. German scientists did discover prions in farmed fish brains that were similar in shape to the ones found in infected cows, although they declared the fish safe for human consumption.

These are all symptoms, though. The main problem is the disease, which, as Flipper can vouch, has to do with our apparent need to instrumentalize everything. Homo faber: hey, it’s a good thing, it got us out of caves and into condos. But there’s this incredible trick that humans are also capable of: stepping back and assessing. Do we need armed Flippers, do we need fish farms, do we need industrial-scale meat farms, do we need to feed animals to animals, do we need strawberries in January,….

Do you need it?

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