Fishing in Public

Approval of Seals

Hey folks. How you doin’ out there in magazineland? Better than me, I bet. Been mildly suffering from humidity — COPD, doncha know? I also know you’re doing a damn sight better than the poor seals. Yessiree, they’ve had one of the worst summers in all history, and made me out to be a liar, to boot.

See, I sincerely informed my editor that I didn’t plan on writing about any more marine animals after doing the pieces on sharks and whales. However, lo and behold, the seals are washing up on our shores dead as doornails, and folks started getting all stirred up, inquiring why I’m not talking ’bout that, for Chrissakes. So here we be.

The evolution of seals is another land-to-sea story, with legs that turned to fins and other adaptations for swimming in the colder waters of the oceans. How they make a comfortable life with ice water and cold fish dinners sure beats the hell out of me. Playful bunch, though, aren’t they? Dashing about. They sure are some sleek bastards. And fast! They’d be hanging out down off the State Pier, cavorting about. Go down one place and bang, pop up ’bout 100 feet away in two seconds flat.

Only problem I had was the damn fish would split to get away from the pricks. Man, we’d throw rocks at ’em left and right — wouldn’t bother them a friggin’ bit. Hell, they enjoyed it! Trying to fetch projectiles like we’re playing games.

Now, I’m not mean, but in those days fish were money. And truth be known, only time we got close to hitting one was when they tried to catch the rock. For some reason, seals have hormones that make ’em like to retrieve stuff. They’ll throw a ball around with a certain grace that’s entertaining like no tomorrow.

Maybe that’s why the U.S. is one country not on the Greenpeace list of countries that mass-murder seals. I almost shit looking at the numbers racked up by Russia, Canada and Norway. I forget who holds the record, but I’m sure it’s nothing to be proud of. I was some surprised. I figured there’d be some kind of world treaty by now. Or just maybe enough folks with enough mercy and compassion. Must be hard enough dodging polar bears, killer whales and sharks to be worried about some mother piping you to death, right?

Now, I wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention that the methods of seal murder have improved a bit, what with modern-tech devices like electric arrows and such. But it sure don’t improve the morality, does it? Especially when you know what they do with the carcasses. That naturally weather-resistant oilskin is worth quite a chunk of change. Japan is claiming they use seals for pet food (yeah, right). And people of the northern latitudes show no remorse whatsoever sitting down for a nice seal sandwich.

Just when you think seals got enough enemies, now comes perhaps the most tragic enemy yet. This summer, nearly 1,000 seals were known to have washed up on New England beaches. And how many ain’t known? Three thousand miles of coastline, islands, coves no one ever visits — I couldn’t begin to guess what the real number might be.

Problem is, seals are a social animal — real social. Traveling in groups, eating in groups, having sex in groups, even barking in groups, as I can certainly attest. Bastards used to keep me awake every night when I was camping on the California coast. Swell alarm clocks, though, if you should like arising at 4:30 a.m., even on Sundays.

This social activity has led them down the path to sickness and death, and maybe to oblivion. Communicable diseases thrive on just their type of behavior. And just what would one do to prevent this sickness? Not a fucking thing. Kind of difficult to tell a seal to stop playing, ain’t it? Goes against his whole nature.

Scientists say the culprit is distemper, with some bird flu thrown in for good measure. Distemper can go after their lungs, guts or nerves, and there’s no treatment far’s I know. There is no danger of humans catching it, but we darn sure made it happen to them. We have polluted the ocean for decades, and while this didn’t actually give them distemper, it has subtracted so much from their immune system that it makes them really vulnerable to social diseases.

Seals are our best barometer of the health of the oceans. They mirror the ocean so well that I hate to think they’re spelling out our future. Keep your fingers crossed.