Eags (Timothy Egan) takes us on a sex tour featuring featuring a marine species of Salmonidae (salmon) which is born in fresh water, lives in the ocean, returns to fresh water to spawn, and then dies. If only Dumbos/Teabaggers would emulate the salmon and die after performing a single sex act. If this is (fair & balanced) wishful thinking, so be it.
[x NY Fishwrap]
Salmon Sex In The City
By Eags (Timothy Egan)
Tag Cloud of the following piece of writing
My friend Sam called from the banks of the Duwamish River, in the industrial heart of Seattle, planes overhead, trains nearby, truck traffic whooshing past. On a cloudless day of high-def perfection, he was excited by a frenzy of sex. Salmon sex.
The river, once a junk-hold of toxins and tires, still a superfund site, was alive with big fish summoning all their remaining energy for a chance to mate and die. There was nothing subtle or coy in those waters; it was all aggression and tail flashing, preening and cruel selection based on looks and strength.
After spending several years in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean, the salmon had arrived in the very home of their birth, their natal ’hood. They were leaping in great bounds, the river surface broken by slaps and splashes. And yet, the fish were not trying to hurdle an obstacle, just sampling some air.
“What’s going on with these guys?” said Sam, who hails from Massachusetts, where a four-foot effigy of the Sacred Cod hangs in the statehouse, and very little cod remain in the waters offshore.
I guessed that they were frustrated, in anticipation of the big sex act that would ultimately finish them off. It’s a tragedy, nature’s Shakespearean twist, that the final life duty of procreation will be followed quickly by aimless drifting, rapid decay and morphing into sushi for an avian predator.
After doing some reading on the still-unfathomable aspects of salmon sex, my friend suggested that female fish were “slutty,” making several nests, or redds, for fertilization rituals with multiple males. They desire big fish, powerful fish, good-looking fish, long of snout, full of the sperm known as milt.
“So, the guy goes off and dies after doing his thing, and she gets another chance to find some poor sap to do the same,” he said. “Women.”
Whoa, I said — be careful with the anthropomorphizing. I then indulged in a bit of it myself, because if you’re going to talk about the sex lives of others, it might as well be anadromous fish.
The good biologists at the University of Washington, who are to fish science what Notre Dame is to football, informed us that some males can be equally promiscuous, if not Trumpean in their avoidance of females that are, sadly, no longer a 10. They scout graveled nests of the best females, checking out potential mates, like using an underwater Tinder account.
Other males like to watch. They spend no time on courtship, instead letting someone else sniff and flash. But then, at the precise moment when a female is releasing eggs in tandem with a carefully selected mate, the intruders will dash in and steal the fertilization moment for themselves — sneaker males, they’re called.
Mysteries and miracles abound in everything leading up to this act. At the front end of life, what signals a fish to transit from freshwater to salt? At the back end, how do salmon find the waters of their birth? After leaving Sitka, how does a fish know when to turn left just before reaching Tacoma? The science is not settled on this, though it is thought to involve smell and using the earth’s magnetic field as a compass. Also, why do salmon stop eating once they return to spawning grounds? Wouldn’t a last meal enhance the last tango? And what’s up with the jumping?
The miracles are in the odds. A female can lay up to 10,000 eggs. Of those, no more than 10 will be likely to survive to adulthood. Upon the return, after dodging nets, hooks and orcas at sea, salmon may find that the old home has been trashed — the water too warm, choked with sewage and chemicals, without sufficient oxygen, all thanks to us.
I told my friend Sam to enjoy the spectacle of an ancient, lovely, complicated ritual being played out in a modern metro area of three million people. The Duwamish was a dump in the 20th century, dredged, straightened, running past the Boeing plants that turned out B-17s, the Flying Fortresses used to bomb Nazi Germany. Yet it still has a pulse of the wild, as evidenced by returning salmon.
Most cities have lost that duality. It was very big deal when a couple of Atlantic salmon were found in the River Thames at the edge of London in 2011. And the French were mesmerized, in 2009, by the appearance of a few salmon in the Seine, passing by Paris.
But you don’t need to go to the far north to see this. Up to seven million pink salmon were in Puget Sound this year. The Columbia River, after decades of decline, has seen strong returns this fall of Chinook, the mighty kings — more than a million so far passing the counting station at Bonneville Dam.
All of the autumn drama, from courtship to fatal finish, is going on in the midst of our overly busy lives, the urban clanking and digital clicking. Salmon are oblivious to what we do, until what we do prevents them from doing what they are supposed to do, starting a life by ending a life. Ω
[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]
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