New Internationalist

Life’s Not Easy As A…

Issue 325

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Life's not easy as a...
Photomontages by ANNE CAKEBREAD

...West Indian Manatee
[image, unknown] With rich yuppies speeding their weekend toys around the place, I can't hear myself think these days. Speedboats used to be a problem only for the old manatees that retired to Florida. But manatees can be hit-and-run victims in Venezuela and Surinam too. If it's not tourist boats, it's fishing ships. Or else we are caught by the junk careless cruisers leave behind - fishing nets, hooks and trash. They might as well go back to hunting us down, like the Spanish used to in the sixteenth century! At least a harpoon is quick to kill, unlike a tangle of fishing lines. I ask you, what have we ever done to deserve this? Manatees are the only entirely vegetarian marine mammals - we don't kill anything to eat it - only graze for aquatic plants, water hyacinths and seagrasses. OK, we're big (two to four metres long and weighing 360 to 1,590 kilos) but that doesn't mean we're not sensitive. We even hug each other in greeting with our flexible hand-like flippers. If that doesn't help humans to empathize with us, what can?

 

...Giant Clam
[image, unknown] I know what you mean - people think I'm just a giant muscle with a pretty shell; that there's nothing more to a South Pacific Giant Clam than that. Our shells are sold as garden decorations and curios. That's if they make it to the surface: often I've seen divers just rip out a Giant Clam muscle and leave the disembodied shell lying there like bones in a gully. Then the clam meat is sold to Japan and Taiwan. People are supposed to be keeping an eye on clam divers - all nine species of Giant Clams are listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) requiring nations to monitor trade. In Fiji, where two species are already extinct, export of wild Giant Clam meat has been banned. But everywhere trade persists. There's just no respect. Giant Clams often like to sit and contemplate the meaning of life, death and everything in between. But as soon as those divers come, it brings down the intellectual tone of this place - turns it into a regular meat market.

 

...Coelacanth
[image, unknown] You think that's bad: many people refuse even to recognize our existence! Coelacanths lived in waters off South Africa, Mozambique and Comoros but were considered 'extinct' till 1953. Biologists then proclaimed we were 'living fossils' (some of them should try looking in the mirror sometime!). They said that Coelacanths are the only members of an order abundant 80 to 370 million years ago. They also had the nerve to say that if we wanted to survive we should grow up faster - we live for around 80 years but don't actually reach puberty until the age of 12 or 15. As soon as word spread that we were no longer extinct, experts from museums, aquariums and private collections came in droves to find us. Luckily, CITES granted us Appendix I status in 1989 to limit this sort of thing. But poachers still use dodgy science to track us down so they can flog our fluids as an elixir to Asian medicine markets. I'm fed up with these Dr Strangelove types - I'm taking my cues from Base Commander Ripper: 'We, Coelacanths, can no longer sit back and allow scientific infiltration, indoctrination, subversion and the international conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids!'

 

...Baltic Sturgeon
[image, unknown] If our unfertilized eggs weren't considered a culinary delicacy and a universally recognized symbol of wealth, many of my sisters would be alive today. Up to 90 per cent of the world's caviar comes from sturgeon in the Caspian Sea. Big Belugas like me are considered highly desirable: we grow to three metres, weigh 200 kilos and one female can produce 12 per cent of her body weight in caviar. We can live for as long as 150 years - but that seems unlikely now that the price put on our heads means that we are rich bounty for lawless caviar ruffians. Things were better in the old Cold War days when the Caspian was bordered only by the USSR and Iran. They kept the masses in line and tightly controlled fishing. Now Iran shares the shores with four independent states: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan. It's a regular free-for-all. Since 1991, they've shipped 500 kilos of Iranian caviar into the US despite its embargo of the country. I'd be happy to rebuild the Iron Curtain with my own fins if it would bring some control over these rogue fishers.

 

...Hawaiian Monk Seal
[image, unknown] Don't talk to me about fishermen. Hear the latest from Hawaii? According to our esteemed colleagues, the human fish-robbers, it is not them but we who are responsible for overfishing. Yes, apparently the fact that Hawaiian Monk Seals are still killed in fishing nets despite being on the endangered list is not the real issue. They complain that Hawaiian Monk Seals 'damage fishing nets'. Like fishing nets don't 'damage' monk seals?!?! Look at me. I've been pregnant for 300 days now and still a month to go. What's that? Well, of course I'm bigger than the male seals, I always have been - that's what makes us Hawaiian Monk Seals unique. All I wish is that these blokes with boats would leave us to have our babies in peace. We're very sensitive to disturbances when we're pregnant and often abort. But not this mamma. I'm putting the monk back into Hawaiian Monk Seal. Yes, that means isolation - get outta here!

 

...Blue Whale
[image, unknown] Quit throwing your weight around. It does no good - look at me: as a Blue Whale I'm the largest animal on earth and humans have got the better of me. In weight I can match 2,700 people and a young child could crawl down my main artery. My tongue is heavier than an adult African elephant and I have seven gallon testicles. When I sing I can reach 188 decibels - louder than a jet plane and the loudest sustained sound of any living animal. Us Blues used to live in all the world's major oceans and when large-scale whaling began, we were considered too large and difficult to hunt. But in the nineteenth century we met two terrible foes: the exploding head harpoon and the factory ship. The latter could completely process our skin and bones on board. Imagine: right before their very eyes our relatives could see us being bloodily commodified! Then came the twentieth century and numbers of Blues decreased drastically - from 1910 until the 1986 moratorium, Norway alone killed around 750,000 Blue Whales. Our numbers dropped to the hundreds. Today we're protected but it's getting harder to get a meal down the hatch. Global warming's meant that krill - our main meal - has decreased in availability by 90 per cent since 1980. So you see, times are tough.

 

...Patagonian Toothfish
[image, unknown] You say tooth? No, noooo, I'm not a Patagonian Toothfish - I'm an Australian Sea Bass, an Antarctic Sea Bass, a Black hake, a Chilean Sea Bass, a Chilean grouper, a Mero - in Japan - and Bacalao de profundidad or Merluza negra in Chile. I am called any name fish traders fancy in their attempt to disguise the fact that I'm endangered. Environmentalists estimate we Toothfish will be commercially extinct in fewer than three years. More than 90 per cent of us are caught illegally in the Southern Ocean making an estimated $500 million a year. And when we go down, so do other species - like petrels and albatrosses which are pulled under the water by fishing lines. Our natural predators, such as the elephant seal whose diet consists of up to 98-per-cent Toothfish, also suffer. But the biggest predators are the importers of Patagonian Toothfish under its many guises: namely Japan, the US, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, Singapore, South East Asia, Spain and the European Union. These are the ones wiping the toothy grin off our faces.

 

...Shortnose Sucker
[image, unknown] Schlurp, Yeah! I'd like to see them stop smirking, schlurp. I don't care if humans think I look funny as I lie here on the bottom of the US's riverbeds. OK, I have crooked mouth and use it to suck the life from the scum at the bottom. But you've seen this before - visited a lawyer lately? Hah! Schlurp, splutter, spit. Sorry, I really shouldn't laugh when I am sucking. I spat it all over you, I'm so sorry. Here try and wipe it off with these algae. Oh no! It usually works to get me clean. Never mind, I'll cut to the point - we Shortnose Suckers were once common all over the Upper Klamath River Basin, which was 2,120,400 hectares large in the early 1900s. Now we're an endangered species and our ability to reproduce has dropped by 95 per cent. Why? These dams! Dams are not just killing off Shortnoses but also thousands of other fish species around the world. More than one collapse of a fishery has been linked to the irresponsible building of dams. Save our rivers! And so, save us! Right, I won't keep you any longer. Go wash - you look awful.

All photomontages by ANNE CAKEBREAD


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