"Oh, like you're better looking."
I used to enjoy visiting Sea World. But the more I thought about it and the more I learned about fish, it began to strike me as an increasingly more artificial environment for these wonderful creatures that have been displaced from their wild blue depths. One day I actually saw a dolphin covering a Please Do Not Feed Us sign, with another crudely drawn one that read Will Do Cute Camera Poses For Food.
Like lawyers, animals must be observed in their natural habitats if they are to be understood, because much of their innate behavior has evolved to enable them to survive, feed, and reproduce in those habitats. This is not to equate lawyers with animals; animals show compassion, rarely hand out business cards at accident scenes, and for the most part, do not bill by the hour.
I recently returned from a ten-year sabbatical, in which I studied animals in the wild. Upon my return to civilization, two things stunned me: 1) The Backstreet Boys were no longer on the Top-40 charts, and 2) I had forgotten to interrupt my daily newspaper delivery, so I had an unbelievable amount of reading to catch up on.
Finally, I was able to sit down and sort out my notes for what I hope will be a valuable contribution to the science of animal behavior--my upcoming series of books, beginning with volume one on fish, titled, You Don't Know Squat About Squid.
While I'm waiting to hear if Moe Cousteau is willing to write the introduction (Hey, if I can't get Jacques, I'll take any Cousteau even Jacque's third cousin), here is a random sampling of some of my most fascinating observations from the deep:
Oyster. The oyster is usually ambisexual. It begins life as a male, then becomes a female, then reverts back to being male, then changes once more to a female. It has enormous therapy bills.
Piranha. Notorious for its ferocity, the piranha locates its prey via its sense of smell, which leads it especially to any flesh that has already been torn and bleeding. Of all fish, Piranha are the least interested in yoga.
Trout. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service restocks lakes by cascading newborn trout from an aircraft skimming the water at low speed. This was originally done from a higher altitude, but the trout kept getting tangled up in their tiny parachutes.
Electric Eel. The electric eel has an average discharge of 400 volts. After having sex, it has been overheard asking its partner, "Was it bright for you, too?"
Flounder. A certain variety of European flounder can lie on a checkerboard and reproduce on its upper surface the same pattern of squares for camouflage. This is valuable not only for protection, but also clinched the Grand Prize in the fish version of "America's Got Talent."
Cuttlefish. There are fish that use sounds for defense. The Hawaiian cuttlefish, for example, repels its enemies by emitting Don Ho's classic, "Tiny Bubbles," at high volume.
Starfish. If a starfish is cut into chunks, each piece will grow into a completely whole starfish. It will then, however, spend the rest of its life bragging about this accomplishment.
Lobster. Spiny lobsters have the habit of walking on the sea bed in long, single-file marches. Occasionally, they'll break into a run, but then stop, asking themselves, "Hey, what are we rushing off to? We're lobsters, for crying out loud!"
Portuguese Man-Of-War. A kind of jellyfish which paralyzes its prey with long, stinging tentacles and then pulls the food in toward the waiting mouths of the feeding polyps. This is the fish least often invited to other fish's parties.
Anglerfish. The male anglerfish has no independent existence, but lives parasitically attached to the female. Also known as the Jamesbrolinfish.
Lamprey. Feed on the blood of other fishes. The only fish both studied and worshipped by Hollywood talent agents.
Salmon. Commonly migrate upstream to spawn. Come-on lines include, "Be right up!", "How's the weather up there, baby?", "This better be worth it," and "You know, my darling, I usually make most females come down to me, but you, you're special."
Sticklebacks. Small, scaleless fishes, short jaws, armed with sharp teeth. Also known as the Joepescifish.
Sea horses. Can rise or settle to another depth by changing air volume within the bladder. Were once featured on an installment of David Letterman's Stupid Fish Tricks.
Tuna. One of the few fish in the world that swims in its own can. Also one of the few to encounter prejudice problems within its own species, between the light-meat and dark-meat tuna gangs.
Marlin. At 2,000 pounds, the marlin is the largest of the ocean's game fishes, with the possible exception of one of its relatives, the Marlinbrandofish.
Flatfish. Lie on the the ocean's bottom, generally covered by sand or mud, with only eyes protruding. Legend is that it learned this technique by observing civil servants at work.
Sturgeon. Caviar is processed from its ovary before the fish can spawn. The most prized varieties offer caviar on tiny triangles of toast.
Barracuda. A member of the highly advanced order, Perciformes. Certain varieties are, in fact, so advanced that they have the ability to both solve algebraic problems, and compare and contrast the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
African Cichlid. The female carries her fertilized eggs in her mouth. Whatever you do, don't ask her to gargle.
Flying Fish. Has developed wing-like pectoral fins that enable it to glide through the air. On longer journeys, its companion, the Stewardess Fish, offers beverage and snack service.
Forceps Fish. Has false rear "eyes," to confuse predators. Hence, the common predator question, "Excuse me, am I looking at your face or your ass?"
Parrot Fish. Bites off chunks of coral, which are ground up and expelled, after passing through the gut, as a cloud of chalk dust. Entertainer Carrot Top claims to have the same ability.
Follow Mark C. Miller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MarkMiller123