Sunday, December 19, 2010

Elegy for Catfish

A walk on the beach in Florida can take on a multitude of shapes. Depending upon such influences as sun, wind, rain, tides and season, the fundamental trio of ocean, beach and sky shifts daily through a cycle of patterns ongoing in their variety. Just when you think you’ve recognized something predictable in the daily scene, a twist in the weather brings on a sudden surprise in the tenor of that walk on the beach.

This week the twist is cold ocean water and its effect upon catfish and snook. In daily walks the past few days I have seen an increasing number of catfish washed up on the beach, some newly dead, others half picked over by scavenging birds. Not nearly as many, but the same is true of snook. My initial thought was that the phenomenon is related to the temperature of the ocean. A call to the New Smyrna Beach Wildlife Services confirmed that guess. According to the person I spoke to, from Flagler Beach south to Vero Beach, a stretch of about 100 miles, the ocean temperature this week is low enough to cause shock among catfish and snook. The shock disables the fish as far as swimming goes, leaving them helpless against tide and surf. Thrown onto the beach they are stranded at the surf line, quickly becoming a fresh dish at the grand and sandy beach buffet for birds. Onshore temperatures have been higher the past three days and birds are more numerous now. Their numbers though are still too few to handle the large influx of beached fish. For the time being, what you see are many fish only half-eaten. But this environment, whatever the season is supremely efficient in processing the non-living, and the passage of several days will find a beach cleansed of these partially eaten carcasses.

As for us two-legged creatures who frequent the beach, temperatures are back in the 60s and 70s, and the walking is optimum, if a little ghoulish with the sight of so many eyeless fish heads.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America