Tuesday, April 03, 2007
Giant Squid Is Evidence Of Trouble To Come
Al Gore didn't mention the giant squid during his appearance at the Academy Awards, but he certainly could have. Experts say that the rare colossal squid recently caught by a New Zealand fishing party may not be unusual in coming years. Thanks to rising temperatures, squid and octopuses are gradually becoming larger.
The experts interviewed by reporters were practically jovial about this. The upside of global warming, some suggested, is that we could soon be enjoying meaty calamari rings as large as tractor tires.
One expert on cephalopods even offered this fascinating insight: "They taste great."
While some scientists cracked jokes—"Calamari, anyone?"—I wasn't laughing. Aside from my very real concerns about global warming, reading about an animal who fought for his life for two hours—two hours!—before finally succumbing to exhaustion didn't strike me as very funny. New Zealand Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said that the squid was "almost dead when it reached the surface"—who wouldn't be after struggling for so long?—and was hauled on board the fishing vessel, then frozen in the ship's hull. After that, the squid was taken back to New Zealand to be poked and prodded by researchers.
Now that the "joke" has run its course, we must face facts. As commercial fishing vessels go further and further out to the deeper parts of the ocean—because they have overfished coastal waters—we will see many once-elusive animals like the colossal squid entangled in their nets and lines. This is no reason for celebration.
Commercial fishing is decimating our ocean ecosystems. Ninety percent of large fish populations have been exterminated in the past 50 years, and a recent report estimates that by the year 2048, our oceans will have been completely overfished. Many fish—thousands upon thousands of fish—as well as sea turtles, birds, seals and squid, are caught by "mistake," entangled in nets or hooked by long-lines. Scientists recently found that nearly 1,000 marine mammals—dolphins, whales and porpoises—are killed every single day after being caught in fishing nets. Most of these dead and dying animals will be thrown back into the ocean after the nets are pulled up and the catch is sorted.
To make matters worse, all marine animals, including fish, suffer horribly when they are impaled on hooks or cut open by the thin mesh of a net.
One of my colleagues at PETA witnessed this firsthand when she went out on a commercial gill netter for a television documentary. On gill netters, every fish caught is entangled in the net, and the fish are pulled aboard one by one as the net is reeled in. My colleague watched as fish after fish was torn out of the tangled net, their bodies sliced to ribbons.
These wounded fish were roughly tossed into a metal bin. Some were still thrashing, some were too tired to move; many were vomiting up their guts, their eyes bulging from the pressure change. After a few minutes, their gill arches were slit and they were thrown into the next bin, where they twitched and gasped, slowly bleeding to death.
None of this is necessary. Leaving fish (and other animals) off our plates is the most humane choice—and the best way to help replenish the world's fragile oceans. It is the only way to ensure that spectacular animals like the colossal squid, surely one of the most mysterious beings of the deep ocean, are spared the indignity of being violently hauled out of their watery homes and turned into the butt of cheap jokes.