Cue the ominous music.
Man Bites Shark
There is nothing like a fin gliding toward you in the water to get the ol' adrenaline
pumping. Sharks are dangerous beasts - ask anyone. Even Hollywood, whose films are known
for their verisimilitude1, got into
the act with the 1975 movie 'Jaws' that featured a murderous great white shark.
Well, according to folks who know about these things, only about 5 percent of the 400
species of shark pose a danger to humans. (Isn't that enough, I hear someone muttering.)
Jean-Michel Cousteau, about whom more later, says that a shark doesn't want to eat people.
It is attracted to thrashing in the water - it thinks that prey is trying to escape. And the
shark doesn't see very well. (Warning to the squeamish: icky
description ahead.) It'll take an experimental chomp out of the thrashing thing
in front of it and spit out the offending bit of human because it doesn't taste too good.
Trouble is, now there is blood in the water. Sharks may not see worth diddly, but they can
smell blood in the water from miles away, and they'll come a-runnin' (or a-swimmin'). Result:
a feeding frenzy over something they don't want to eat. Nobody said they were
smart.(OK, you can start reading again.)
Anyway, most sharks would just as soon leave us alone, but humans haven't been returning
the favour. We've discovered the joys of eating shark, to the extent that experts estimate
that some shark species have declined as much as 90 percent in the past 15 years. Says
George Burgess, director of shark research at the University of Florida:
'One on one, we humans are no match for them. But in a boat, with a line, a
hook and bait, we can conquer these animals. And we have - to the point that they're in real
The sharks aren't the only ones in trouble. Over fishing by humans has reduced stocks of
fish worldwide to an all-time low. If we don't begin to manage this resource, we'll end up
eating plankton and jellyfish.
Many of us think of the world's oceans as a vast, largely-untapped resource. If we think
about dangers to fish populations, we'd probably put pollution at the top of the list. But
recent research suggests that the world's growing appetite for fish is the bigger danger. As
the numbers of fish near our coastlines have fallen, fishermen have begun either to harvest
smaller, less desirable fish close to home, or else to work farther offshore and at greater
depth to keep up with worldwide demand. Daniel Pauly and Reg Watson from the Sea Around
Us Project in Vancouver (Canada) claim that these practices are unsustainable. And
according to some researchers, the situation is already dire. They estimate that we have
already lost 90 percent of the world's large predatory fish from the world's oceans. Others
have also documented massive declines in marine mammals and turtles all along our coastlines.
Mammals, as in dolphins. This HooToo-er is not amused.
Some have proposed introducing genetically-modified fish to the seas in an effort to
replenish rapidly dwindling stock. For example, over the past decade, researchers have found
a way to alter some types of fish so that they will produce human growth hormone, or hGH.
These superfish grow faster and larger on less feed, which sounds like a good thing.
Unfortunately, as we've come to discover when we tinker with Mother Nature, our ideas
often don't work quite as well as we'd like them to. A few years ago, William Muir and
Richard Howard of Purdue University studied the effects of releasing genetically-modified
fish into the wild. They discovered that more than 30 percent of Japanese medaka born with
the hGH gene did not live to sexual maturity.2 In
the marketplace, this isn't important; fish can be sold and eaten before they are sexually
mature. But in nature, reproduction is the whole point. If the superfish are less able to
produce offspring, the population will eventually decline, bringing us back to square one.
Muir and Howard's computer models predict that if 60 transgenic fish were released into a
population of 60,000 wild fish, the species would be extinct in 40 generations. If fewer
modified fish were released, the result was the same; it just took longer to get there.
What about fish farms? They can help relieve the pressure on ocean fish populations only
if the farmed fish do not consume fish meal. Some salmon farms produce less than they
consume; they can use up to three pounds of fish meal to produce one pound of salmon.
Clearly this isn't the answer.
At this point, it appears that our best options for meeting the global demand for fish in
the future will involve managing the world's fisheries. Most of all we need to stop thinking of
the ocean as a limitless resource. This may be our most difficult challenge.
As if the poor fish weren't having enough problems lately with hungry humans, they've also
had to contend with hot weather. Thanks to the heat wave and drought that pounded Europe
this summer, river levels are down and the water that's left is warmer than normal. Like
humans, fish suffer when their environment gets too warm for them. We can head for air
conditioning when we get too hot - the best that the fish can hope for is to end up in a
freezer somewhere. The poor little beggars just can't catch a break.
And speaking of hot water...
Everybody in the Pool
You can't make up stuff like this.
You may have heard that the Gray Davis, the governor of California, is in political trouble.
Many residents of the state are angry because they feel Davis lied about the seriousness of
the state's budget crisis, only to reveal the truth after he was re-elected. He then advocated
massive tax increases plus cuts in public safety and education to balance the state’s budget.
Californians are paying the highest utility bills in the nation, according to these disgruntled
folks, because of Davis's mishandling of the state’s power crisis. Whatever the truth is
behind the allegations, they're fed up and they're not taking it anymore. By the end of July,
they had collected more than 1.3 million valid signatures on a petition, enough to trigger the
first recall of a governor in California history.
Over 200 candidates had originally put their names forward for the recall election.
Qualifying for the ballot in California is easy; would-be candidates have to pay a $3,500
filing fee and hand in the signatures of 65 registered voters. As of this writing, the field has
narrowed to a manageable3 135 replacement
candidates. Among them are movie star Arnold Schwarznegger, the state's Democratic
lieutenant governor Cruz Bustamante, state Senator Tom McClintock, 'Hustler' magazine publisher Larry Flynt, former child actor Gary Coleman, columnist
Arianna Huffington, and former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth. It wouldn't
surprise me if Jaws were on the ballot even though he's, technically, a fish.
As if sorting through 135 candidates weren't enough, voters will have to contend with a
new version of 'alphabetical order'. California follows the 'randomised alphabet' process
for all its elections to ensure fairness in the placement of candidates' names. For the
upcoming recall election, the alphabet goes as follows:
R, W, Q, O, J, M, V, A, H, B, S, G, Z, X, N, T, C, I, E, K, U, P, D, Y, F,
As I said, you can't make up stuff like this.
Now for a dose of sanity.
Jean-Michel Cousteau is the oldest son of explorer, inventor, and film-maker Jacques
Cousteau. Jacques Cousteau (1910-1997), together with French engineer Emile Gagnan,
perfected the aqualung, a device that allows a diver to remain underwater for hours at a time.
In collaboration with engineer Jean Mollard, he designed the Diving Saucer, a two-person
submersible capable of diving to a depth of 1,000 feet. In 1982 Cousteau, Lucien Malavard
and Bertrand Charrier developed the Turbosailtm wind-propulsion system. The
system is being used in the experimental ship 'Alcyon', now a proven
expedition and filming platform.
In 1973, Jacques Cousteau founded the Cousteau Society, whose mission is to protect
and improve the quality of life for present and future generations. He produced more than
115 films that introduced the world to the beauties and marvels of our oceans; among the best
known of these films is 'The Silent World'. A television series called 'The Undersea World
of Jacques Cousteau' made him a household name in the United States. The Society also
drafted the Bill
of Rights for Future Generations, which was presented to the United Nations
General Assembly in October 1994. This remains one of their primary missions.
Jean-Michel Cousteau is an explorer and film-maker in his own right and is the founder of
the Ocean Futures Society. The
Society is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to exploring, researching and celebrating
the world's oceans. The Society has just completed an expedition to the North-western
Hawaiian Islands, one of the last pristine coral reef ecosystems on the planet. They are
producing a documentary film about the expedition called 'Voyage to Kure' for the Public
Broadcasting Company (USA). The Ocean Futures Society has also partnered with
Disney/Pixar in creating a coral reef web
adventure for 'children of all ages'. This entertaining and informative web site
allows visitors to explore the world portrayed in the Disney/Pixar movie Finding
really surprised that a hormone from a different species - one that regulates sexual maturity
in that species - would cause problems like this? I'd be astounded if it didn't cause
problems. Sometimes I think scientists get so wrapped up in the 'technology' of what they're
doing that they forget to ask themselves if their idea even makes sense.3More sarcasm.