People + Fish + Wonder = Conservation


I’ve been creating (and embellishing) fish stories ever since my grandfather took me to the North Carolina mountains to teach me the alchemy that transformed the grasshoppers we caught together into rainbows of flipping shining scales in a five-year-old boy’s hands.

Subsequent initiations by father and great-grandfather led to a life of piscatorial pursuits, more fishing than actual catching, but punctuated with high adrenaline close encounters with diverse fishy life.

For most recreational and commercial fishers, the passion for fishing flows from being in nature, searching for patterns while spellbound and humbled by the mystery, beauty, and power. And it’s the same for marine scientists and explorers.

When I was 7, I lobbied Mom to buy the right kind of cereal over and over to gather enough box tops to join Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s “Calypso Club.” Was that the club’s name? I’m not sure, but I do recall the thrill of being a full-fledged member.

After Cousteau invented scuba-diving, he opened the eyes of the world to the “other” 71 percent of the Earth that is ocean. His mission was conservation, and his method was wonder. The captain said: “…People protect and respect what they love, and to make them love the sea, they should be filled with wonder…”

People go to extreme lengths to get close to fish — for example, jumping out of helicopters to catch and release a marlin. Some of us think this video is a) an amazing piece of work and b) a set up with a well-timed release of a tired, hook-caught fish as the fish is a striped marlin that can swim at least 10 times faster than Michael Phelps.  (Hat tip to blogfish for the video.)

Several weeks ago I learned of a new PETA campaign to rename all fish “sea-kittens.” Schools with the outdated word “fish” in their names are requested to substitute “sea-kitten,” and there’s a petition to ban sea-kitten hunting (the practice formerly known as fishing) and special online tools for making your own “sea-kitten” cartoons.

I respect and appreciate people who choose not to eat any animals, or certain animals — these choices have unambiguous positive conservation consequences. As does what we feed our cats. But I don’t see the mystery, beauty and power in sea-kittens. We are increasingly becoming divorced from the reality of wild nature. Go play outside. Then say hello to these real fish discovered in the last few weeks:

  • Dracula fish lost her fangs, but hey no problem, use bones. Evolution rocks.
  • What do you find when you look at a part of the ocean that hasn’t been studied since 1904? New species, duh.
  • And last but not least: 7 new species of bamboo coral were just discovered at the new Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Ancient life, 4,000 years old — and a nice-sized bite of the ocean’s wonder recently protected.

Watch this space for good news about how people are linking new information about nature’s patterns and human behaviors to conserve and restore marine ecosystems.

(Image: Sardine run. Credit: Alexander Safonov, used by permission of the author.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. I don’t remember a ‘Calypso Club’, but I was a member of the Cousteau Society when i was about 10 or 12, even got his autograph when Calypso sailed up the Potomac to Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, probably in 1978 or so. My Ma went so far as to make a Jacques Cousteau action figure doll for me. And I have a dusty scale model of the Calypso in my attic.

  2. I’ve been a member of the Cousteau Society for years..Seriously — am learning so much from your blog, Jay.
    This is really helping me to learn more about fish and I will be checking back often as there is a wealth of information and I like the way that you write. Cheers.

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