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The Fish Story

It’s Time to Pelt Some Seals; Bobcat Sweats Out Its Lineage

Photo by: Jack Reynolds

The bloody war of words and bullets related to harp seal hunting has once again ignited. This week marks the start of the 2014 seal season in Canada. Designers at Versace, Prada and Gucci are licking their lips in anticipation of the freshest fur.

Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has allotted 400,000 young seal for this year’s harvesting. Those numbers are almost always attached to the DFO’s findings that there are currently 4.7 million seals on the ice floes off Newfoundland and within the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, a zone known as The Front. Ninety percent of the Canadian seal hunting is done there.

While the numbers show the seal biomass is doing damn well, it’s the age thing that causes the screams of protest – by both humans and seals. The harp seals to be harvested are, on average, about three months old. Seals this age are colloquially called “beaters” – proving there are some weird senses of humor out there.

That pet name obviously swings back to times past, ending recently, when seals were manually beaten/clubbed into the marine mammal hereafter, headfirst. Going headfirst when headhunting seals prevented damage to the highly desirable fur. Hmmm. Lethally pounding the life out of an animal while tenderly conserving the pelt. I’m betting that’s not being conservational in the classic sense of the word.

“Hi, I’m Helene Myers and I’d like to welcome all my fellow conservationists to this convention, especially the newly-arrived World Federation of Sealers. Welcome aboard.”

“Uh, Helene, can I talk to you for a minute?”

In response to global outcries about the cruelty of seal clubbing, Canada now requires seals first be shot, then clubbed – if they don’t dutifully die when first plugged. Ungrateful little beasts.

By the by, the “club” of clubbing fame is called a hakapik. It’s actually not a club at all, at least not the modern version. It’s the spittin’ image of an ice ax, used by mountain climbers. Industry analysts claim nine out of 10 seals prefer a hakapik to an actual club club.

For 2014, the Canadian government demands all seal hunters attend a series of seal killing workshops to assure that all seal snuffings are certifiably “humane.” I’d kinda like to attend one of those workshops. I see me sitting in the back of the room issuing, “Yuck, I think I’m gonna be sick!” or, “Shouldn’t we at least blindfold them first?” or maybe, “What we need is some sort of seal electric chair. We could run a real long extension cord …” – Until they escort me out at hakapik point.

There’s a bit of a paradox with this year’s seal hunt. While the DFO insists all seal harvesters have buyers at the ready – before commencin’ to shootin’ and smashin’ – only fur is the word when marketing the seal crop. That’s wanton waste.

I’ll take a sanguine point of view in saying if you’re going to kill young seals, at least use the entire animal. While I only eat soy seals, the mammal’s meat is prized. The problem is the peltless meat is sorely lacking a worthy market – say, for instance, China, willing to eat the meat of every slaughtered seal down to the bare bones. Close, but no market.

It seems a well-meaning group called the International Fund for Animal Welfare, with a branch in China, has persistently driven the Chinese government away from buying seal meat from Canada. Just this year, it happened again. A near-done seal deal between the two nations – worth millions in all kinds of currency – turned green at the last instant. China again kowtowed to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. That in itself is kind of a mystery. We’re talkin’ China here, with a planetary-sized army, chopstick-shaped missiles in every home, enough tanks to fill a thousand Tiananmen Squares, and yet, mawkishly giving in to a heavily-femaled protest group. Hmmm, maybe I just unraveled my own mystery. You sly dogs, you.

ROCKY ROAD: Things are not looking very good for Rocky the Manahawkin Homeboy Bobcat. And, to this point, he remains strictly a bobcat. The courts-that-be are hot on the trail of Rocky’s bloodline. A judge is keen on seeing if there are any adulterations in Rocky’s DNA bobcatness.

A notion is being bandied about that he is a hybrid. This is one time that pure-bloodedness might be catastrophic. There is some law or another that says bobcats, as wildlife, are illegal to own in N.J. Why is that not surprising? There’s a friggin’ law against everything in Jersey. Hell, if you look hard enough there’s likely an overlooked law that says it’s illegal NOT to own a bobcat in NJ.

If Rocky happens to be only part bobcat, he sure fooled me. As previously noted, I’ve seen bobcats. Not only is Rocky a spittin’ image of the real bobcat McCoy, but he’s also hefty-sized to boot. While in Florida – and using the finest military night-vision equipment – I saw significantly smaller, full-blown bobcats in the wilds. Researching farmlands between Cocoa Beach and Orlando, I once saw three different bobcats in a single night. One was huge and the other two were not much larger than overfed house cats. I might have even seen a panther one night but it was getting really late and it might have only been a really stealthy, fast-moving cow. Hey, you’d be amazed at how farm animals act when they don’t think anyone is watching. I miss Gary Larson. “Car!”

Anyway, it will seemingly come down to DNA purity in deciding Rocky’s next fate. (He’s a feline so he has nine fates, right?) If so, at what genetic road marker does an animal stop walking on the wild side? Feral cats, despite watered down “wildness” genes, can still make a Tasmanian devil look tame. Hell, Rocky is more a pet than a friggin’ feral cat.

FOXY PERFECTION: On this wildness subject, I want to re-reference foxes. Since I first blogged about a local fellow who owns the world’s kindest fox – a la Soupy Sales’ dog, Black Tooth – I’ve found foxes are often kept as pets, albeit secretly.

Fox keeping falls under N.J.’s no-can-do wildlife law. They are categorically an unkeepable and fully un-petable form of wildlife. Not so fast, N.J. Check out the cover story in the March 2011 National Geographic, titled, “Taming the Wild: Designing the Perfect Pet.” There on the cover is a lovely red fox, an animal with not just the makings of a perfect pet but also an animal with an underlying fondness for humans. Did I mention that my buddy’s fox is the kindest animal I’ve ever had the pleasure to pet? Well, I just did it again.

So, might there be some merit in at least feeling out the potential for benign interplay between wildlife and humans? Maybe it’s meant to be – in the big-picture evolution thing.

Seeing Rocky ready to snuggle with humans at the drop of a hand proves it isn’t hard to establish a symbiotic relationship between certain forms of wildlife and we of a human ilk. At one evolutionary point or another, humans invited in dogs, cats, chickens, cows, horses, elephants, camels, goldfish – it goes on and on. No, this doesn’t mean we have to denude landscape of its denizens. It’s just we humans need all the friends we can get.

FUNGUS v. ’SHROOMS: When the Neanderthals were first creating our current vocabulary, they wanted to come up with a word for today’s oft-deadly “mushrooms.” They sought a word that simply sounded so bad that nobody would want to eat it, based on word intonation alone. After lengthy debate, mainly between wooly mammoth hunts, they got kinda close when someone came up with the word “fungoo.” But, after saying it a few times, everyone commenced to laughing so hard they voted it down, convinced people might eat fungoos just to get a laugh. However, when the laughable word fungoo morphed into “fungus,” there was unanimous agreement that was a word that sounds so awful nobody would want to put it anywhere near their mouth. Work done, they all decided to jump into a tar pit to see what it would be like.

What these early, club-wielding illuminati failed to recognize was the way humans would someday resort to eating anything. In fact, to neutralize the stigma of eating anything as distasteful-sounding as fungus, newer man created the far more edible-sounding word, “mushroom.” Naturally, no one had the slightest idea what it meant, short of a room wheremush resides. Nonetheless, the word mushroomed in popularity. It became highly edible. Big mistake.

Wilderness note: Mushrooms are mainly bad-tasting and poisonous. Sure, a couple/few of them taste decently when overwhelmed by butter or gooed up in a Campbell’s soup. But a random, mystery ’shroom from your backyard or the outback? You can’t believe the number of folks annually felled by fungi (Centers for Disease Control). What were they thinking? Mushrooms are hideous-tasting when raw. And folks still want to chew on them for wilderness kicks? WTF!?

This is yet another one of my lengthy lead-ins to a tale.

Over the weekend, I was doing some deep outbacking and bumped into a couple hikers – lost, I might add, but won’t. Lo and behold, the youngish couple was out fungi gathering. Gospel truth. They had a slew of fogged up plastic bags, apparently with juicy pickins inside. Yum-yum.

After jamming them into the front seat of my over-cluttered truck, we headed back to where they had parked – the dead opposite direction of where they were heading. I guessed they had been so engrossed in fungi finding they got all disoriented. OK, so maybe I wondered if they had imbibed in magic fungi and had gone flitting off for a spell. Nah. They were just directionally challenged.

Questioning their fungi-izing, I was told it’s too early in the season to get into hardcore mushroom collecting. “Oh, drat,” I silently thought, wise-assedly. But, amazingly, I semi-related when they said that better ’shrooming begins shortly, around Mother’s Day.

“That’s when the morels bust out, right?” I asked, offering up the sole bit of knowledge I possessed about any and every fungi on the planet. It stemmed from my once having picked a single morel mushroom in Tuckerton. Didn’t matter. They all but ignited over my merely mentioning morels, one of the most famed and valued edible mushrooms in North America. Just like that, they began talking as if I was a learned, fellow fungi-izer. I half worried there might be some secret mushroomer handshake they were gonna launch at me as a test of my loyalty. You don’t mess with even nice-seeming people clutching fungal material. Turns out they were both teachers.

I got them to their Honda, exchanged cards, and reluctantly agreed to go out with them morel hunting, come May. Maybe some familiarity with fungal things will quell my cavemannish fear of the goofy things.

POST-SCRIPT: So, don’t I get home and instantly come upon a news story about a fully stunning medical breakthrough focusing on a few select North American mushrooms. Researchers have proven that the naturally occurring psilocybin in certain (just say it) “magic mushrooms” stimulates new brain cell growth in folks suffering from traumatic brain injuries. Nothing else is known to do this. Tis a fine fungus, indeed.

By the by, those researchers, likely trying to avoid any affiliation with the more spontaneous research by Dr. Carlos Castaneda, titled their study, “Effects of Psilocybin and other Selective Serotonin Agonists on Hippocampal-Dependent Learning and Neurogenesis.” Hmmm. That title sounds a little Yaqui to me. (See, “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge.”)

OUCH!: I’m not sure if this bizarre news story falls under the category of sadomasochism or masosadochism. I’ll opt for the later, since we just might need a new word to describe what is secretly driving Cornell’s Michael Smith. The post-grad researcher is doing a hands-on/sting-in study on bees.

While many a researcher has sought answers to the problem of allergy-challenged folks going down after a bee sting and its apitoxin, Smith is taking a different flight of fancy. He is doing hands-on experimentation by testing what parts of the human anatomy, specifically his own, are most and least sensitive to bee stings.

Procedurally, Smith grabs a bee by the wings and then lightly presses the business side of the pissed-off insect to assorted and exposed body parts. “All body parts?” you beg. Oh, yes, he’s going to go there.

Once penetrated, Smith allows it to sting for 60 seconds, exactly. This is a scientific study so exactitude is essential. One might question if there’s such a thing as psychological exactitude. He stung himself almost 200 times.

Interpreting the bee sting impact, Smith rates it on a 1 to 10 pain scale. That’s legit. This pain scale is fully accepted by doctors and scientists.

I’ll get right to the point. The three most sensitive areas to be bee stung are nostril, lip or (and I’m saying this with a scientific aplomb) ye penis.

In another life, I just might have lived when bee stings to the penis were de rigueur. Why? I somehow instantly knew, without ever having been so stung, that a Johnsonesque bee sting would rate way up there, pain-wise.

Other ouch zones are the cheek, palm and armpit.

What were the three least painful areas? What does that matter? Let me guess: you’re gonna direct attacking bees to bodily areas to where it hurts least?

Let’s hope Smith doesn’t move on to sharks.

FB PHILOSOPHY: I now highly discourage travel to Spain and any other such country. Just imagine if you went there and really did lose your wallet and passport and wife and were arrested and had no money to fly home. Nobody would believe you. You’d rot there.

Also, the newly re-released “Wizard of Oz” might now be seen as the ultimate chick flick: Dorothy and the Wicked Witch trying to kill each other over a pair of shoes.

Next week: Fishing 2014 begins in here.

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