Ferocious Puffer Down Below
PUFFERS WITH BAD INTENT: I’m sorry I’m running a little late getting this news story to you – and hopefully it hasn’t cost any of you guys dearly.
The essence of this you-can’t –be-serious story focuses oo the fact you really don’t want to piss off certain puffer fish.
I’ll begin with the exact lead from a world news wire. It read: “A Cambodian teenager was recovering in the hospital after an angry puffer fish attacked him in the groin.”
Oh, it gets meatier, believe me.
The story heralds from the Khmer-language Koh Santepheap, a popular Cambodian newspaper, which (and, I kid you not) ran a front-page photograph of the unnamed 13-year-old “in a hospital bed with heavy strapping around his testicles,” per the news wires. “Smile.”
Note to self: They say that all publicity is good publicity but I’m guessin’ having a load of photojournalists jamming into your hospital room to get close ups of your fish-chewed testicles surely dispels that adage. Never use the expression again, Jay.
Anyway, the boy's father, Sok Ly, spoke on behalf of the understandably reticent lad – who spoke in a high-pitched voice even prior to his injury. Good old dad was quick to not only alert the media to his son’s wild and wooly wounding but took delight in detailing the way the boy was clearing his fishing net in waist-deep water when he accidentally netted – and somehow royally pissed off -- this apparently highly-irascible fish species.
Per Sok, the fish, when freed, was livid and decided he wanted to chew the fat over the incident, so to speak. And the puffer definitely got in the last word, via boy’s mouth. That word was, “OWWWWWWWWWWWW!” Amazingly, the word is the same in Cambodian as it is in English.
No, there were no details on how, exactly, the enraged puffer reached its mark, though I have heretofore sworn off wearing baggies when surfing.
Then, the Koh Santepheap news report offered some background cultural information that had me staring vacuously at my computer screen, pondering the potential power of puffer fish. It read, “Cambodian boys are traditionally advised not to swim in waters where the puffer fish is common.” Further, “Cambodian legend has it that the bite of the fish is even more dangerous than its poisonous spines, especially for boys.”
All right, I’ll bite. You’re telling me there is a puffer fish species out there that knowingly targets the tender region of male humans? And the fish learned this how?
Sidebar: There are more than a few anglers who see the local irony in the Cambodian puffer fish account. Locally, we are advised from the time of boyhood not to eat the gonads of our local blowfish – as if. There’s supposed to be a poison in blowfish genetalia. Who knows, maybe there was some bizarre loss in translation among puffer fish around the globe. The Cambodian puffer fish mistook “Humans can’t eat puffer fish gonads” for “You should go out and eat human gonads.” Hey, you gotta better theory?
Ironically, I no sooner got done pondering this puffer fish story – and its certain future appearance on “World's Wildest Puffer Fish Attacks” -- than I happened upon (yet another) show about divers jumping in the ocean to all but taunt great white sharks. I got a subtle chuckle thinking how these macho-ed look-at-me guys would have their on-cameras egos instantly deflated by someone suddenly screaming, in a horrified falsetto scream, "Puffer fish!" -- as those daring and dashing diver dudes climbing and clawing up each others’ backs trying to get back onboard— with the terrified sharks trying to climb in on the other side of the boat.
You never see those scenes on the edited copy of the program.
Anyway, reading this puffer story, I self-righteously balked at how really weird other cultures can be. Then, lo and who’d believe it, don’t I hear a 1972 Chuck Berry song on a Golden Oldies station. And how weird would our culture seem to a puffer fish fearing Cambodian who heard the stanza,
“Once while swimming cross turtle creek,
Man them snappers right at my feet,
Sure was hard swimming cross that thing,
with both hands holding my dingaling.”
TOP-COST TOE NIBBLERS: I want to do a breakneck segue to an oddly appropriate news story from the District of Columbia region, where rich and weird folks are freely allowing themselves to be chewed upon by fish.
It’s chic, cool, costly and carpy.
A Chinese beautician is knocking them dead down near the Beltway by offering a pedicure done by a couple types of tiny carp common to Turkey; the doctorfish, Garra rufo and Cyprinion macrostomus, the red log sucker. Both are commonly called nibblefish and seldom get more than a couple inches long.
Actually, in the Old World, practitioners of what amounts to ancient naturopathy have long used these species to gnaw away at the woes that ails one’s skin. The fish have even been used to down gangrenous skin. (Why is my stomach turning?)
Bringing this decidedly fishy skin-cleaning concept to America is a John Ho, who runs the Yvonne Hair and Nails salon with his wife, Yvonne Le. In their first half-year of fish-based pedicures, over 5,000 patrons have dangled their feet for a costly carp cleaning.
It should come as no surprise, these pedicures are huge in Asia. Hopefully, they don’t make sushi out of the fish after the pedicure. (Oh, now I’m really feeling sick).
So how’s it done?
Per Ho, you place your feet in a vat where imported doctorfish await like suckling piglets. They go after dead or badly damaged skin as if it’s soon going to be taken off the menu. The fish ignore healthy skin, so perfectly that scientists are studying how they know the changeover point between the good and bad. By the time the voracious skin-scarfers are done, you pull out perfectly pedicured feet.
In an Associated Press story, Tracy Roberts, 33, of Rockville, Md. Got wind of Ho’s piscatorial pedicures, tried a nibbling session and was quoted as saying, “(It was) the best pedicure I ever had.” She added, “I'd been an athlete all my life, so I've always had calluses on my feet. This was the first time somebody got rid of my calluses completely.”
The cost is $35 for 15 minutes or $50 for half an hour. A session requires the services of 100 fish. The shop has 1,000 fish. The story didn’t mention if the fish were unionized.
Note: Turkey has been forced to ban the export of doctorfish due to dwindling stocks. The fish are being farm-raised, worldwide.
An astounding look at these frenzy-inclined fish can be seen on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a12m-6DWbRc.
A lot closer to home, there are a couple freshwater fish species that perform noninvasive toe and foot nibblings. When readying to kayak Pinelands lakes (Lake Oswego comes to mind), a few so-called Pine Barrens sunfish readily come up and repeatedly nibble at bare toes and feet. It’s hard to keep from cracking up. I’ve sat in shallows with other barefoot kayakers as we tried to withstand the tickling bites. It’s near torture to hold still, allowing the fish to keep nibble. At that rate, it would take a couple weeks to get even your basic Pine Barrens pedicure.
THAT’S COLD, MAN: Water, water everywhere but not a place to take a dip.
As we speak, the water has sunk back into the mid and even low 50s.
Upside: The LBI air conditioning system is on the extra-high setting, as cool sea breezes have saved many folk a bundle of bucks in electrical air conditioning costs.
The downside is overly obvious, as packed in beachgoers can barely tolerate a knee-deep cool off in the suds.
Obviously, the angling isn’t taking well to the frostiness. Surfside bassing is almost as cool at the ocean temps.
How would one rate, historically, this summer, with its average 55-degree water?
While many folks takes summer water temperature readings -- from lifeguards (60 degrees today) to the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce (“70 degrees today”) -- long-term records are inexact. Enter the anecdotal -- and no better place to start than yours truly.
I have been immersed in LBI waters for every summer dating back to my breakout 1960s days. My back-then days were spent as both a lifeguard (a contemporary of famed beach supervisor Don Myers, both of us hired by guarding legend Art Jocker, Sr.) and an obsessive-compulsive surfer – running away every August to overwinter in Hawaii.
I took sea notes for decades on end. Going back 40 years, I can’t recall – or locate in my notes – a colder water summer than this year.
Odds are this in-water frostiness is just one of those quirky every-so-often things. However, we can’t overlook planetary weather shifts. But how does so cold fit in with global warming?
It makes sense when think big-picture.
Our spring season is a transitional period when we go from winter’s predominate northwest flow of wind to summer’s southerly flow. This is the result of Canadian high-pressure systems in winter and summer’s Bermuda highs. During spring’s turnover time, roughly March through May, winds should be very shifty, often light. This year, we went to a fierce southerly flow of wind without batting a transitional eye. That’s not good when factoring in the upwelling syndrome.
If only via this column, you’ve repeatedly heard how upwelling occurs when hard southerly winds blow off solar-heated surface water, allowing the deeper frigid waters to rise up and dominate the surfline. Those get-go southerlies have kept the warm wind at bay. In fact, we’ve been down so long it looks like up. Last week’s less-than-toasty mid-60s ocean temp readings seemed kinda nice. By comparison, ocean temps for this time of year are often in the low 70s.
Now I have to go hypothetical, if only to maintain momentum in the effort to cure our planet’s carbon-burning ways. There is a fairly obvious wind angle to global warming: Faster turnovers from winter to summer patterns, i.e. this year.
Let’s hope, again, that this is just a quirky thingy and we’ll be back to balmy seas real soon.
WEAKIES ON THE FLY: I was talking with Adam Sprague owner of the Barnegat Bay Outfitters in Beach Haven, local home of the famed (and quite cool) line of Orvis products. Orvis is fully famed for its fly-fishing family of goods. Its Battenkill Large Arbor Big Game Reel is outstanding, per a number of users I know.
We’ll be doing some future SandPaper stories on fly-fishing – and Adam’s shop -- but I want to quick-mention a common observation twixt Adam and I. Of all the species available for catching, local fly-fishermen hold weakfish in the highest esteem. Sparklers taken on the fly are far-and-away the favorite target of these specialized casters. There is no close second.
And it’s a perfect match when one considers the very independent style of fly-casters, who flourish when fishing off in their own little world – with plenty of room for carefree backstrokes.
Weakfish are snappiest when in very peaceful surroundings, as in bayside shallows as daylight drains. Late-day fly-fishing along the bayside flats (around sedges and such) is when that perfect match of fish and fishermen meld.
SIDEBAR: During my heavy exploration of The Dike of High Bar Harbor, I have watched (on many occasions) as weakies inch on to the shallows as the sun sinks. I have seen hundreds of fish do this on the east side of The Dike, where heavy boat traffic often lingers near-by until late-day.
I have also seen pluggers (including myself) come along in the late afternoon and chuck plugs and jigs into the weakly shallows. The instant those unnatural splashes sound off, the entire shallows instantly clear of weakies.
Conversely, up comes a soft-stepping fly-caster and not only don’t the weakies flee as his fly gently touches down but the interest of nearby sparklers is instantly perked.
Last summer, I was told by a visiting fly-caster leaving the Dike (with a veritable stinger of weakies – all quite legal) that he produced fly-fishing documentaries and wanted to come back and shoot a video from the Dike’s sand cliffs. I haven’t heard more but he sure was sold on fly-fishing LBI.
ICE FROM WHEREVER: Email: “I was drifting the Middle Grounds on Friday the 4th, alone. Approximately 12:30 pm I heard what sounded like an incoming missile, it started out faint and became VERY loud within seconds. The whole episode lasted less than 2-3 seconds and about 15 feet off my stern I saw a splash in the water and what looked to me like a bowling ball size piece of blue ice!
By the time I reeled in the rod, started the motor and spun around to try and net the thing, it was gone, presumably melted. I saw if floating so that rules out a rock, and the fact it was gone by the time I got there, I just know it was a piece of ice, probably from a plane. I can only imagine what would have happened if it had it my boat or my head! Steve”
(Steve: Don't sell your sighting short. Sure, it's easy to go with the outfall from a jet bathroom angle but take it from a meteorite hunter like myself -- actually, I've never actually found one -- there are meteorites that are very icy. Hell, you may have watched dollars melt away, considering a meteorite with certification – one that has been seen as it falls – is a hot seller in the collectibles realm. As for that little piece of toilet paper mixed in with the ice, who knows what galaxy that might have come from. J-mann)
EELGRASS DAYS: This is just a quick read on our local yesterdays, when washed up eelgrass was looked upon as a marketable commodity. I got into this after buying some pitchforks like those used in the eelgrass days. This is from an astounding diary written by a resident of Beach Haven Terrace from the turn of the century up to WWII.
Back in 1910, eelgrass harvesting on the beach was a fairly tricky operation.
After just the right winds and tides (northeast winds at high tide) brought in the grass, the harvesters would pitchfork it, one clump at a time, higher up the beach, away from the next tide. When a goodly load was up-beached, it was “cured” by spreading, or ‘shaking,” it out to dry in the sun.
Then, came the “sweetening,” whereby rainwater would wash off the dried salt crystals. This sweetening was essential. Prolonged drought could rot the laboriously placed eelgrass, requiring its removal – to absolutely no profitable end.
Once the grass was sweetened, it still needed a last “shaking” before a final drying period.
Fully processed eelgrass was carefully tossed into a wagon – ride-along sand was avoided at all cost. It was sent to a “seaweed” house, where it was baled for shipping.
Back in those turn-of-the–century days -- actually the final years of serious eelgrassing – the seaweed was used in Detroit to fill the seats required in the booming auto industry. It was also used as bedding in mattresses.
And that olden eelgrass had the same down side as today. Per quotes taken from a Nichterlein family chronicles, “We are glad (the eelgrass) is gone,” remarked Captain
Nichterlein, “For the weed would get tangled in the fishing lines, obscuring the bait from the fish…Many times I have seen large quantities of seaweed on a calm day just floating up and down.”