Life in the ocean is not as serene as it seems according to two news reports this week.
A marine scientist at Auckland university, who has been eavesdropping on fish says he has proof that they “talk” to each other. Meanwhile, in the North Atlantic a new study suggests whales are shouting to be heard in ever noisier ocean waters.
What’s going on? And are these phenomena connected? One thing is for sure - there’s been a lot happening topside recently giving them plenty of reason for deep sea discussions.
Doubtless the whales are still trying to get their leviathan heads around the outcome of the latest International Whaling Commission meeting which means they’ll be trying to outrun the harpooners for another year.
“And before the free drinks had even finished and while the Japanese 'good girls' were changing back into their school uniforms Iceland set off and killed poor old Uncle Bob and Aunty Flo.
“What, I can’t hear you above the noise of all that oil gushing out of the Gulf of Mexico”
“Don’t worry about it. Seen any krill lately?
They’re possibly also lamenting the passing of their maverick friend Moko the Dolphin who, after three years of entertaining beach goers on the east coast of the North Island, was this week found dead on Matakana Island near Mount Maunganui.
The fish probably aren’t too sad about that as it seems they are communicating to attract mates, scare off predators and to orientate themselves. Not so different to what we do every day except we’re not having to dodge nets the size of several football fields scooping us up along with every other part of the neighbourhood.
According to the study, cod are normally silent – except when spawning. However, my guess is that orange roughy are the real marine motormouths. With a lifespan of up to 150 years they presumably have a lot to talk about. It takes them 25-30 years just to reach sexual maturity which is a long time underwater not trying to attract a mate. That leaves them plenty of time to talk about how to screw with scientists trying to work out how many there are of them in New Zealand waters.
“Okay you three swim around frantically and make like a school. Stop. Now spread out. Hide behind that seamount. Do the school thing again.”
This ploy is working well as confirmed by Ministry of Fisheries deepwater fisheries manager Aoife Martin earlier this week following the release of data showing a continuing drop in orange roughy numbers between the Chatham Islands and the South Island, even though a "rebuilding strategy" was in place.
This is Aoife speaking (not a fish).
"Our management approach has worked but we have some work still to do to get the right management measures in place for some areas."
Despite this, the ministry has used the research results to develop proposed catch limits for the next fishing season which starts in October.
It’s doing the same for hoki, which may be related to cod in the language stakes. Either that, or the ministry’s fish translators aren’t getting the message from them that regardless of an
apparent increase it’s too early to be celebrating and increasing the catch by 10,000 tonnes.
So, the fish may be talking but it’s up to us to speak on their behalf by making public submissions, before August 4, urging the ministry to show caution with our fish stocks and defer an increase to ensure both hoki and orange are protected for future generations.
Last year, the New York Times said in a front-page article that cuts to New Zealand's hoki catch limits were bringing the valuable export into disrepute on sustainability measures.
It’s one thing to be maligned on land. It’s another thing altogether to be foul mouthed by a fish.